Notebook: Ohio State named No. 1 seed for March Madness, then wins big against Indiana
The excitement that is this current moment and the promise of what might be still to come collided Saturday on national television.
At high noon, No. 4 Ohio State tipped off against Indiana at Value City Arena in a game broadcast on ESPN. Half an hour later, CBS continued its recent tradition of unveiling the top 16 teams in its projected NCAA Tournament bracket.
So with the Buckeyes leading by double figures during the final third of the first half, a national audience learned that they were officially projected as the fourth No. 1 seed for March Madness. Of course, they still had a game to finish, plus five more scheduled during the regular season and a likely appearance in the Big Ten tournament before getting there, but it was the most concrete sign yet of what is developing into a special season for Ohio State.
Not surprisingly, after the Buckeyes finished off a 78-59 win against the Hoosiers that made them winners of six straight and nine of 10, they weren’t too focused on where the journey might be taking them.
“The one seed, that’s cool and all,” junior forward Justice Sueing said. “We still have some games to play obviously, but far as our team, we’re just worried about the next game. The next week is going to be the most important for us. We try not to focus too much on what’s too ahead of us, the tournament and stuff. We just continue to play and get better each and every day.”
It was the mature, expected response from a team that preaches staying in the moment and trying to get better on a daily basis. It’s the type of attitude that, to this point, has allowed the Buckeyes to put distance between themselves and their lone blemish during the last month. In a January 19 home game against Purdue, the Buckeyes led by 11 points with 2:54 remaining in the first half only to wind up with a 67-65 loss to the Boilermakers.
That marked only the second time in Chris Holtmann’s four seasons with the program that the Buckeyes had led a double-digit lead completely disappear in a Big Ten game, and it provided a few teachable moments that seemed to pay off against the Hoosiers.
Ohio State used a 19-0 run to turn an early 6-2 deficit into a 21-6 lead with 10:50 to play. It was a stretch where the Buckeyes seemingly did everything right, nabbed every loose ball and converted every missed shot. Of its first nine misses, Ohio State managed to grab five offensive rebounds. In between scoring its sixth and seventh point, Indiana turned the ball over six times.
It was demoralizing for the Hoosiers, but they fought back – at least, for a while. Ohio State led 31-15 before Indiana put together its own 11-0 run, making it a 31-26 game with 2:16 to play and forcing Holtmann to call timeout at one point and deliver a terse message to his players.
“Basically he said to us, ‘You’ve got to play harder. And tougher, because they’re punking us on the court,’ ” freshman center Zed Key said. “That’s basically all he said, and we went back out there and did our thing.”
Duane Washington Jr. answered with a three-pointer, and after Indiana got a left-handed hook shot from Trayce Jackson-Davis to make it a 34-28 Ohio State lead, the Buckeyes closed with a burst. CJ Walker hit two free throws with 42.7 seconds left, and E.J. Liddell then turned an Al Durham turnover into a fast-break bucket at the other end as the Buckeyes took a 38-28 lead into the half.
Indiana would creep close on two more occasions, but the Buckeyes had answers. After Durham scored on a fast-break basket to make it a 40-34 Ohio State lead, Sueing hit a three-pointer on his only attempt of the game to push it back to nine. And when it was a 45-40 lead moments later after a Jackson-Davis basket, Key nabbed a Washington miss and scored on the put-back to make it a seven-point lead.
Walker would hit a three-pointer with one second left on the shot clock one possession later, and it would become a nine-point Buckeye run that pushed it into double figures for the final 12:56 of the game.
“Having a run early, it’s good and bad,” Sueing said. “At times during the season we’ve had a lead, a pretty large one too, and we’ve let it slip way. In this game it was a big emphasis as we began to make the lead larger. Coach continued to emphasize keep playing and keep them on the heels. That’s what we did and we got what we wanted.”
As Sueing implied, against Purdue, the Buckeyes struggled to maintain their lead. Against Indiana, they answered the challenge.
“I think we’ve got to continue to grow in that area right now,” Holtmann said. “The biggest thing as a coach right now is we’ve got to get better and the moment any type of complacency comes in and we see it in practice it’s got to be addressed. We’ve got to stay fully engaged as a group. I think we’ve been somewhat inconsistent sometimes playing with a lead, but we were better today.”
Justice Sueing responds
Monday at Maryland, Sueing was scoreless in 17 minutes, missing all three of his field-goal attempts. Friday, Holtmann said he probably could’ve played Sueing more but chose not to.
“We just rolled with the combination that was playing well,” he said. “He’s got to play with some more higher-level motor. When he’s playing well, absolutely, and in that stretch of games where he played exceptional, absolutely. That’s a key thing for him is his overall motor.”
Saturday against the Hoosiers, Sueing had five rebounds in the first eight minutes on the way to his third double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds. The day of the game, Holtmann said Sueing was the first player in the gym at 7:30 a.m. getting ready.
“Coach is going to be hard on me,” he said. “He expects a lot from me and I take that to the chin. He’s pushing me every day and I have to accept it’s to make me better. I’m going to keep embracing the challenge. I’m glad we did it. Were on a little run right now and we’re going to continue to push it.”
Added Indiana coach Archie Miller, “I just feel like Justice Sueing, people don't understand how big and how strong and how underrated he is.”
Trayce Jackson-Davis does some damage
In the two meetings between these teams last season, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis hadn’t done a whole lot. The first-team all-league candidate totaled 13 points and 10 rebounds as the teams split the season series.
Saturday, in the lone meeting between Indiana and Ohio State, he finished with a game-high 23 points on 10-for-14 shooting. He finished with nine rebounds, ending a three-game double-double streak.
Chris Holtmann again bests Archie Miller
It’s a matchup that has been analyzed plenty, but since the two coaches were hired at their respective schools in 2017 Holtmann improved to 6-1 against Miller.
“I don’t typically look at records with individual programs unless somebody shares that,” Holtmann said. “In all reality, we have pulled a couple out that have been, let’s just say players make plays. We’ve been fortunate, whether it’s CJ Jackson’s three or whatever the case may be. We’ve had really close games against them, but I think that can turn at any time.
“Before we were going into the Michigan State game I unfortunately hard on the radio coming over I was 0 for 4 in the last four against them. I don’t really get into that. The reality is we have a couple we’ve pulled out against Indiana. This one was a little bit unique that most of our games have been tighter than this.”
The 19-point win is the most lopsided in the seven meetings between the two coaches. Ohio State’s five prior wins came by a total of 33 points, 15 of which were in the first meeting, while Indiana’s lone win was by 12 points.
Justin Ahrens quiet on stat sheet
Since being moved into the starting lineup for a January 13 home game against Northwestern, Justin Ahrens has hit at least two three-pointers in eight straight games.
Saturday, he finished 1 for 4 from three and had five points, one steal and four fouls in 19 minutes. Still, Holtmann credited his impact on the game even if his shot didn’t fall.
“Justin, while he may not have had great numbers, he created great space on the floor because of the threat he is,” the coach said.
Once the game was finished, Ahrens came back out on the court with a manager and put in some extra shooting for nearly half an hour.
“You’re not going to run away from teams in this league, and you’re certainly not going to run away from NCAA Tournament teams like Indiana is right away. Over time you can create some distance. I think it’s a maturity thing. We’ve been OK with that this year. We’ve gotten a little better at having the maturity you need in games to stretch leads and win the next possession. For us, we’ve got to keep focusing on winning the next possession regardless of the score.” – Holtmann
“There was a little adjustment period when we went to Purdue for the first game. I was out there like, this is really physical. From that point it was just, do what you do. Give the energy off the bench. It’s been a blessing and I’m really happy that coach Holtmann has trust in me to come in and do my thing.” – Key
“Coach let us know (Friday) that some of our numbers went down as far as our offensive rebounds, overall rebounding. We wanted to really attack that and play with force. We always get something good out of it. It creates extra possessions for our team and we capitalize on those.” – Sueing