Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann chooses to 'face the music' after Iowa loss

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra

Their absence wasn’t the story, or even really a story surrounding what happened to No. 4 Ohio State on Sunday afternoon at Value City Arena.

In a rematch of one of the more entertaining games of the season, the Buckeyes were hosting No. 9 Iowa and bringing a two-game losing streak onto the court with them. Unlike that thriller at Iowa City back on February 2, the Hawkeyes controlled this one from tip to final whistle in what would be a 73-57 win for the visitors.

When the game was over, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann sat down for the postgame virtual press conference. He spoke for roughly 15 minutes and addressed a rough offensive performance, efforts to slow down Luka Garza, the health of Kyle Young and much more.

He also, at the end, addressed the fact that, for the first time in his four years at Ohio State, no players were made available for postgame comment.

“I wanted to be the one to face the music here,” he said. “They’ve battled all season. They’ll be available all week. It’s not that they’re not available. In this moment it’s important for me to come out and face the music here. We’re going to meet in a little bit.”

It’s those final eight words that shed some interesting light on the current state of the Buckeyes. After playing their third game in eight days, just like the Hawkeyes, the Buckeyes looked fatigued early and gassed late. They fell behind by 14 going into the half, cut it to two in the first few minutes of the second half and allowed a 7-0 run that effectively pushed the game out of reach.

Once Garza scored to make it a 12-8 game with 14:28 to play in the first half, the Buckeyes would never again have the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. It was that methodical.

“We clearly didn’t have the (normal) bounce and I’ve got to figure out why,” Holtmann said. “We clearly did not have the emotional juice coming in that we normally do. I did not recognize that (Saturday). We clearly didn’t. We’ve got to get there.”

There was one spark for the Buckeyes, and it came in the first 3:11 of the second half. There, they outscored Iowa 14-2 to pull within 44-42 by scoring on their first six possessions.

Ohio State would go empty on its next four possessions, the last two of which ended with turnovers. One was a shot-clock violation, the other a Keegan Murray anticipation and steal of a Duane Washington Jr. pass.

By the time E.J. Liddell stemmed the tide with a basket through contact with 13:35 left, Iowa led 51-44. Ohio State would get no closer than four the rest of the way, and in the final 16:49 the Buckeyes would score only 15 points.

It marked a second straight sub-70-point scoring night for the Buckeyes, who had only 67 in the loss at Michigan State on Thursday night. The 57 points are a season low for an Ohio State team ranked No. 3 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com.

There are a number of numbers that shed light on the why. Holtmann’s longest postgame answer, though, came in regard to a question about how much to make of a three-game losing streak that came amid a tough stretch of games.

After all, the Buckeyes started this with a 92-87 loss to No. 3 Michigan that might’ve been the game of the year in college basketball. They followed that with a controversial loss at surging Michigan State, then lost to the No. 9 team in the nation with a game against No. 5 Illinois looming Saturday as the regular season finale.

Holtmann was asked: how much do you have to balance being disappointed with overall play against overreacting to losses against good teams?

“Yeah, I think it’s hard in the moment and it’s hard for all of us,” he said. “As much as you want to look at the closing stretch (of games) and talk about what it is with three top-10 teams and a team that’s tough to play at their place, what we can own is areas as coaches and players where we just have to get better.”

That, presumably, was to be the primary talking point when the Buckeyes were to reunite Sunday evening. There are missed shots, and there are missed assignments and mental errors that lead to 19 Iowa assists or 13 Ohio State turnovers against a team that, to be blunt, isn’t known for its defensive prowess.

“Certainly this is unlike any stretch I’ve been a part of,” Holtmann said. “What I’m hoping is that it gets us better and it’ll be certainly a measure of our ability to handle disappointment and adversity and challenges.”

Prior to this losing streak, the Buckeyes hadn’t lost consecutive games all season, making this a fresh lesson in adversity on the eve of the calendar flipping to March.

“This is certainly the first time this season we’ve had a stretch like this,” Holtmann said. “You look at it and can anticipate struggle, (but) it’s certainly challenging in the moment. The balance between recognizing that we’re playing a ridiculously hard closing stretch and then owning areas we have to get better is the challenge for us moving forward.

“It’s a balance because you don’t want to excuse poor play by just sheer quality of competition, even though we recognize the quality of competition that we’re playing. We’ve got to get better in areas and use this to get better.”

The Buckeyes have shown the ability to bounce back in tough games or from tough losses this season. They’ve had big wins at Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, physical ones against Penn State and blowouts against Rutgers. They’ve battled injuries across the lineup, and more often than not they’ve responded.

Those lessons will be put to the test anew, given the coming layoff before one final regular-season tuneup.

“We’re going to meet here in a little bit so I’ll have a better gauge after we spend some time together,” Holtmann said. “Sure, we built a really quality season up to this point but we’ve got to play better. Obviously there have been plenty of good times. This is the first time we’ve hit significant struggles and we’ve got to respond here in this closing stretch.”

Offense with some offensive numbers

After going 4 for 14 from three in the loss at Michigan State, Ohio State was 5 for 17 in the loss to the Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes are 9 for 31 (29.0%) from deep in those two games after hitting 37.3% during their first 17 Big Ten games.

They have shot 44.7% from the field in their last two losses. The Iowa loss was Ohio State’s worst-rated offensive efficiency performance of the year, while the loss to the Spartans ranked fourth-worst.

After scoring 30 points while going 5 for 10 from three in the loss to Michigan, Duane Washington has scored 24 in the last two games while going 2 for 12 from three and 10 for 26 overall.

“I didn’t think the ball moved very well today,” Holtmann said. “Iowa’s activity had something to do with that. We’ve got to take a look at it. The ball’s gotta move. We’ve got to take a higher quality of shot than we took here today. We were really, really sloppy with the ball, as sloppy as we’ve been all year.”

The Hawkeyes turned the Buckeyes over on 19.7% of their possessions, the fourth-best showing for the Iowa defense in Big Ten play.

The offense taking a nosedive is not something this Ohio State team has been built to handle. The Buckeyes are now ranked No. 81 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 97.0 points per 100 possessions.

“I just think in general we’ve not been good really on either end (recently),” Holtmann said. “Offensively we were just really poor today. I thought defensively we had pockets of good play but overall not good enough.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy