Rob Oller | Ohio State men's basketball problems no surprise to coach Chris Holtmann
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Bob Knight never showed up, which was not entirely unexpected. More surprising was that Ohio State pulled a no-show, too.
First, about the 11-ranked Buckeyes, whose once-sensational season is collapsing in a deja vu kind of way. Ohio State turned in one decent half against Indiana, then reverted to a band of rec league players who couldn't dribble, defend or shoot.
When it was over, after freshman point guard D.J. Carton had committed seven turnovers; after coach Chris Holtmann had benched sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. for most of the second half, apparently for defensive lapses; after sophomore guard Luther Muhammad had fouled out following another vapid offensive performance; and after junior center Kaleb Wesson had tallied just one two-point basket — on a goaltending call, no less — the Buckeyes had dropped their fourth consecutive game.
Ohio State was neither smart nor tough in losing 66-54 to the Hoosiers, but before we return to the scene of the crime, a brief timeout to discuss Knight, or Coach Knight, as you best call him to his face. Google it.
The hot rumor entering Saturday's Big Ten game was that the former Indiana coach would make his first appearance at Assembly Hall since the school fired him in 2000.
Security people were prepared for the man in the famous red sweater, but he never arrived. One security guard explained that Knight was scheduled to attend, but the wet weather deterred him. Soon after, a Twitter post showed Knight at a game at Marian University in Indianapolis.
Maybe he couldn't stomach watching his alma mater struggle through another soft loss? Seriously, Ohio State fans suddenly should be skeptical of this team, which was 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation a month ago but now is 11-5 and 1-4 in conference play.
Surprising? Yes. Shocking? No. After wins over Villanova, North Carolina — which has become a dumpster fire in its own right — and Kentucky, most everyone got fooled into thinking these Buckeyes would go deep in the NCAA Tournament.
Holtmann was never all-in, sharing that “some of (this) were concerns we had going into the season, about were we going to take the next step in terms of efficiency offensively, in particular our perimeters? So it's not a complete surprise to me.”
But Holtmann also thought the Buckeyes had made improvements during two practices before the game.
“At the end of the day, it won't change until we make some of these real changes,” he said.
Carton needs to take a breath and slow his game to 5 mph over the speed limit instead of 25 over. Twice, he lost the ball by outrunning his dribble.
Wesson sounded confident Carton would collect himself sooner rather than later.
“It's why we love D.J.: He responds to things like this,” said Wesson, who had 11 points. “We know he's going to make mistakes, but he also knows we need him big-time.”
If this all sounds familiar, it's because Ohio State went through it last season, losing five consecutive games from Jan. 5-23 before winning four of its next five. The similarities don't end there. The Buckeyes lost Kyle Young to a leg stress fracture for much of the second half of last season, and the junior once again is in recovery mode after an appendectomy cost him two games. He returned against Indiana but looked rusty.
Also, the Buckeyes are again the gang that couldn't shoot straight. Against the Hoosiers, their guards were a collective 7 of 26 (26.9%) from the field, including 4 of 14 (28.6%) from three-point range. Over the four-game losing stretch, the guards are 35 of 122 overall (28.7%) and 16 of 61 (26.2%) from three-point range.
That's more misses than Robert Montgomery Knight at Assembly Hall.
“We have a lot of games left,” Wesson said. “But we can't say that after every game.”
It's time to turn things around.