Notes: Ohio State gets 'superpowers' from new black jerseys in win at Wisconsin

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State's Duane Washington eyes the rim in with Wisconsin's  by D'Mitrik Trice closing in on defense Saturday at the Kohl Center.

MADISON, Wis. – If you consider the eye test to be the best indicator of success, Ohio State succeeded on multiple levels Saturday afternoon.

In a road game against No. 10 Wisconsin, the No. 15 Buckeyes officially unveiled their black, alternate uniforms for the first time all season. The new look had the players so excited, sophomore forward E.J. Liddell said he was essentially counting the days until the team could publicly wear them. Social media got a sneak peek Friday night, and the new-look Buckeyes went to the Kohl Center and never trailed in a thorough, 74-62 win.

As senior guard CJ Walker told The Dispatch, they had no choice.

“We didn’t want to lose in these uniforms and never get to wear them again,” he said.

The redesign of the uniforms as a joint collaboration between Ohio State and Nike that took place during the pandemic. Last Monday, nearly two weeks ago, Liddell and junior forward Justice Sueing donned the black versions for a private photo shoot. Then as they headed to an arena where they had lost 13 of their last 16 games, the Buckeyes felt a little boost when they suited up.

Harvard graduate transfer Seth Towns put it another way.

“I think the jerseys definitely had something to do with it,” he said, sporting a slight smile. “We all felt it when we put the jerseys come on. We all felt these superpowers come in us. We played and we didn’t hold back from it the entire game.”

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It’s a stretch to say that the new outfits led to the victory. It’s not in doubt, though, that the Buckeyes controlled this game for the duration. After taking a lead on the opening possession, Ohio State never trailed. Ahead 6-3, Kyle Young converted a three-point play with 16:15 to play in the first half and the Badgers never got within one possession the rest of the way.

Tuesday, Ohio State allowed a double-digit lead to slip away in a Big Ten loss for only the second time in coach Chris Holtmann’s four years with the program. This time, Ohio State had an answer every time Wisconsin threatened – or even threatened to threaten.

Wisconsin’s best chance came late, when Aleem Ford hit three three-pointers in short order to cut a 57-47 Ohio State lead to 62-58. Sueing lost the ball out of bounds with 4:16 to play, but Ford’s spell was broken and he missed a three-pointer that could have made things dicey.

At the other end, Duane Washington Jr. drew a foul and hit both free throws with 3:40 to play, and Wisconsin got no closer than six points the rest of the way.

“Overall, I’m just really proud of this group,” Holtmann said. “You look at this Wisconsin team and we’ve got tremendous respect for them. Top 10 team in the country. They’re obviously talented and really disciplined. Players win games. I thought our players from the jump really grabbed ahold of this thing and couldn’t be more proud of our group. It was a tremendous character win for our group after a tough one the other night.”

Defensively, it was Ohio State’s fourth-most efficient game of the season and second-best in Big Ten play. It came against a Wisconsin team that entered the game ranked 19th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Ohio State men's basketball:Surprisingly elite offensively, Ohio State working on its defense in Big Ten play

Offensively, the Buckeyes shot 50.9% from the floor. After going 6 for 18 against Purdue from two-point range, the Buckeyes were 22 for 37 (59.5%) from inside the arc.

Holtmann credited assistants Ryan Pedon, Terry Johnson and Jake Diebler for the game plan.

“I think that was probably as good as we’ve played offensively in our three-plus years against an elite defense,” Holtmann said. “I just thought it was really efficient. It was really smart. Ryan Pedon did a great job with the game plan offensively. Terry and Jake did a great job with our defensive attack. Against a defense this good, this formidable, when we won here a couple years ago it wasn’t as good as it is now. We got really frustrated here last year so we obviously had to play differently than we did last year. I thought our guys were tremendous with that.”

From tip to finish, it was a thorough performance for the Buckeyes.

“This team has been extremely engaged from the very start of the year,” Holtmann said. “A really, really engaged group. They bounced back from tough losses very well. They came back to work. They’re competitive. They feel losses. I told them I didn’t sleep for three days (after the Purdue loss). They came back the next day ready to work and had really good preparation here last night for this team.”

Walker, who made his first appearance in nearly a month after missing four games with torn ligaments in his right hand, evoked the mantra of, “Look good, feel good.” Liddell, who led the team with 20 points, shared a similar feeling.

“When we put them on, it just had a different type of swagger, a different type of confidence,” he said. “When I first saw them, I got really excited. I couldn’t wait to put them on.

“I kept asking, ‘Which game are we gonna wear them?’ The days were going by so slow. I was waiting to put these on.”

E.J. Liddell sets the tone

The Buckeyes got going when Liddell won the opening tip against Micah Potter and ended the possession with a jumper. Two possessions later, he hit another over Potter as Ohio State opened up a 6-0 lead.

He finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. From two, he was 6 for 9, most of them mid-range jumpers, after scoring 11 points and only attempting three two-point field goals in the Purdue loss.

“I think it was just Wisconsin’s style of play,” he said. “They didn’t really post-double as much as Purdue but I felt like I was more aggressive on the offensive end and we were more connected today than we were in our last game.”

His presence allowed the Buckeyes to compensate from an off shooting night from Duane Washington Jr., who ended a streak of six straight games scoring in double figures with a nine-point effort. He went 1 of 9 from the floor but was perfect on six free throws and had four assists.

“In this league, you are gonna command when you come in as effective as he’s been, you’re going to command a lot of attention so you’ve got to play the game the right way,” Holtmann said of Washington. “Move the ball, create open shots for other people. E.J.’s gonna have to continue to do that at times. Duane as well. You have to continue do those things. I just think he continues to evolve and grow as a player. He’s taken a major step as a junior in league play, the best competition in the country. E.J.’s taken a major step but so has Duane.”

Liddell said the game was another example of how work on his mid-range game has paid off.

“I knew I had to expand my game for this team to be good,” he said. “I started off kind of slow (this season), made two threes in the first couple of games but I feel like I just keep improving and keep my mind set on getting better every day.”

Buckeyes control the Badgers

As a team, Wisconsin entered the game shooting 39.0% from three-point range. Five of the team’s top eight scorers were shooting better than 40.0% from deep.

Aside from Ford’s mini-run, the Badgers finished 4 for 25 (16.0%) from three. With those three makes, Wisconsin was 7 for 28 (25.0%) from three, its second-worst three-point shooting performance of the season.

So was it Ohio State’s defense operating at a high level or Wisconsin just missing some shots?

“Probably a combination of both,” Holtmann said. “When you get ahead of a team, sometimes those shots are a little more difficult. Us jumping to a couple-possession lead early was important because throughout the game it puts game pressure on those shots.”

Ohio State, meanwhile, won by 12 despite attempting a season-low 16 three-pointers.

The Micah Potter element

Potter, a one-time Buckeye, had scored in double figures in 12 of 15 games and was second on the Wisconsin roster in scoring average at 12.2 points and first in rebounding average at 6.7 while shooting 40.5% from three and a team-best 50.4% overall.

He finished with 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting and was empty on four three-point attempts. In three games against his former school, the Mentor, Ohio, native is 9 for 20 (45.0%) from the floor, 1 for 8 (12.5%) from three and averaging 8.0 points and 4.0 rebounds.

The Buckeyes were reminded of his presence by a cardboard cutout as well. A lifesize replica of Wisconsin mascot Bucky Badger was situated in the stands near the entrance to the Ohio State locker room, and it held a white sign during the second half that read, "Thanks for Micah!"

Buckeyes could add a game

Ohio State’s travels home were delayed due to issues with the team plane. As a result, the Buckeyes remained at the Kohl Center hours after the final tip, eating pizza, dancing and filming videos from a few of the luxury suites.

When they would get back to Columbus, they would be facing an eight-day layoff. Ohio State is not scheduled to play again until Michigan State comes to Value City Arena on January 31, but they might not get that much time off. The Buckeyes had a non-conference game against Alabama A&M canceled earlier this season, and the possibility remains that they could add a similar such game sometime during this coming week.

“I’ll make that decision here and we’ll let you know,” Holtmann said. “I’m not sure. I’m debating. We’ve got some time off, but we’ve also got a tremendous opponent in Michigan State. We’ll see if we need a game in between there to give our guys some freshness and readiness in the middle of a layoff.”

The Buckeyes did have a day of rest following Tuesday’s loss to Purdue, which had been their third game in seven days. Ohio State was off Wednesday, and Liddell said that made a significant difference.

“That was the best day of my life and I feel like everyone else felt that,” he said. “We had a lot of games in a row. After the Purdue game I felt like everybody got their body back right, did some rehab. A couple people got massages and I feel like that reset a lot of people.”

Quotable

“It’s certainly an unbelievable feeling, playing with Ohio State on the front of my jersey. Whatever role I’m assigned, however many minutes I’m playing, I think fans everywhere and my teammates and staff can see that I’m gonna play hard regardless. Every single game, it doesn’t really matter. When my name is called I’m proud to be putting this jersey on and playing for this team.” – Towns

“You want your players to celebrate the wins more this year than ever. You want them to really enjoy wins playing in the middle of a pandemic playing against a top-10 opponent. You want to see big smiles on your players’ faces because you know tomorrow morning we’re going to get up and get tested at 8 in the morning. We’re gonna go through that routine. They’re not going to get to see their families. At the end of the game when you see the smiles on their face, it’s really rewarding because they’ve invested a lot in this season. You want them to be able to play meaningful games in February and March and I hope we can continue to build towards that.” – Holtmann

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy