Ohio State men's basketball faces a choice after Iowa loss: focus on the past or the future?
Sunday’s result left Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann with a choice to make.
That evening, the Buckeyes hosted Iowa for what would prove to be a top-10 showdown in name only. The Hawkeyes, ranked No. 9 at the time, trailed for 30 seconds while mostly dominating the Buckeyes from tip to final whistle in a 73-57 win at Value City Arena. It saddled Ohio State with a third straight loss, dropping it to No. 7 in Monday’s Associated Press poll and likely putting it on the outside looking in at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Those are concerns for a week or two from now. Sunday night, Holtmann had to decide how to address what was arguably his team’s least competitive game of the season while keeping the bigger picture in mind — namely, that in this three-game losing streak, the Buckeyes had taken two losses to teams now ranked in the top five nationally.
“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 (Michigan State) 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,” Holtmann said after the Iowa loss. “You look at (the closing stretch) 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.”
The Buckeyes were expected to start addressing that as soon as Sunday evening. Holtmann said the plan was for the players and coaches to reconvene and address the status of the team given the three-game slide.
After the loss, Holtmann also served as the lone spokesman for the Buckeyes. For the first time in his four years at Ohio State, no players were made available for postgame interviews.
“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.”
The week will present plenty of opportunity for introspection and, hopefully, some better health. On Monday’s radio show, Holtmann said that a number of players are dealing with health concerns. Kyle Young topped the list after he returned from a concussion that kept him sidelined against Michigan State. He played 25 minutes but clearly wasn’t his usual active self.
Fourth-year junior wing Musa Jallow was somewhat limited with a left ankle injury that kept him out for the Michigan game one week prior, while Justice Sueing (groin) and CJ Walker (right hand) were dealing with bumps and bruises of their own.
Those are all part of the story against the Hawkeyes. But Holtmann was clear Sunday night that the team’s overall effort level wasn’t where it needed to be in order to compete with a veteran Hawkeyes team bent on revenge after the Buckeyes beat them in Iowa City earlier in the month.
The opening to the second half was the outlier. Down 14 at the half, the Buckeyes cut it to two with a 14-2 run in the first 3:11 of the half. From there, they would score 15 points in the final 16:49 while finishing with their lowest scoring total of the season.
“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.”
They’ve got a week to figure it out.