Rob Oller | Buckeyes must be who they are, not who others want them to be

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann hugs freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. following the Buckeyes' 81-71 won over Northwestern on Wednesday. Johnson made his home debut with six points in 11 minutes.

Today we talk about those reliable standbys: confidence and filling your role. To illustrate how they work, specifically related to the Ohio State men’s basketball team, it is instructive to illustrate what happens when they do not work.

Exhibit A: When lacking confidence, say, when a certain reporter, ahem, is struggling with the mute and unmute buttons during a postgame conference call, that is what is known as a train wreck waiting to happen. And when the coach being interviewed — let’s call him, say, Chris Holtmann — needs to talk the reporter through the mute and unmute process, that is known as a fail job.

Exhibit B: Know your role. A reporter’s role, ahem, is not to begin pressing buttons on the laptop computer when things go haywire. A reporter’s role is not to scream at his laptop, as if it can hear me, er, him. A reporter is not a tech savant. Next time, call for help.

Contrast those exhibits with the way the Buckeyes typically play, specifically how they closed out Wednesday’s 81-71 win against Northwestern in a near-empty Value City Arena sprinkled only with players’ and coaches’ families.

Setting the table, this is not an OSU roster full of future NBA talent, which means every player has to perform his role to the max and do what he does best every game. That can be problematic when players have off nights, because then another teammate has to pick up the slack, which defeats the purpose of filling a specific role. But that’s where this team has landed.

So far so good. The Buckeyes are 10-3 despite dealing with a spate of injuries that have depleted the point guard position. Holtmann continues to show he is a superb spackler, patching together lineups that allow players to use their strengths.

Nowhere was that more obvious than in the final four minutes against Northwestern, when Holtmann called timeout with 4:05 remaining after watching OSU’s 12-point lead whither to one in the span of five minutes.

Leading 67-66, it was time for players to “role-up.” First, three-point threat Justin Ahrens did his job by draining a three for a four-point lead. Justice Sueing followed by slashing to the basket for a layup. Then Kyle Young used his Body By Jake to muscle in a baseline leaner, getting fouled in the process and adding the free throw to make it 75-66 at the 2:12 mark.

Duane Washington finished the 12-0 run by doing what he does best, attacking anything in front of him. Washington’s aggression can be ill-timed, but what the junior sometimes lacks in situational smarts he makes up for in confidence.

Some athletes have fake swagger built on insecurity; their bravado lasts only as long as shots are dropping. That is not Washington, who believes in his ability even when Holtmann stares him down following faulty shot selection.

Against the Wildcats, Washington scored a career-high 23 points and dished out a career-high six assists with one turnover. His coach approved.

“Duane was tremendous,” Holtmann said. “What we’ve seen in this last string of games is a consistent, efficient Duane Washington and when you get (that) he is what I’ve always believed, and that is a very good player. Now, when he’s inefficient, to his credit he has really committed himself to improving in that area. His decision-making in the last four minutes probably won the game for us.”

Confidence can take you a long way, which bodes well for the Buckeyes as they increase the minutes of true freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. With point guards CJ Walker (torn ligaments in hand) and Jimmy Sotos (shoulder) sidelined, Johnson made a pair of three-pointers in his first appearance at home.

After the second basket, he jawed with Northwestern’s Chase Audige, who led the Wildcats with 25 points. Smack-talking the other team’s leading scorer can be foolish or gutsy. Either way, such an outburst shows confidence.

“I love his competitive spirit,” Holtmann said of Johnson. “If he gets a technical, I don’t love that, and I made that point to him, but I love his competitive spirit. I love his aggressiveness. Meechie Johnson has a fearlessness to him and I love that about him.”

In that way, Johnson and Washington are kindred spirits. Don’t tell them to mute their games. Neither know how. I get it.