What did Evan Turner text Chris Holtmann about Ohio State's Big Ten tournament run?

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann watches from the bench as his team played Minnesota in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Thad Matta will always be Evan Turner’s coach. Together, the two helped build a new era of Ohio State men’s basketball, one that for Turner culminated with being named the 2010 national player of the year by multiple outlets before becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft.

So while that bond is a special one, it hasn’t precluded Turner from building a special connection with current Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann. As this year’s team was battling Illinois to what would become an overtime loss in Sunday’s Big Ten tournament title game at Lucas Oil Stadium, Turner was watching and cheering – and not just for that game. Reaching the title game after three high-level wins in as many days was a feat itself, and in the immediate aftermath of the 91-88 loss Turner had to get that message across.

More:Bruised Buckeyes processing Illinois loss before embracing joy of March Madness

Moments after the game, as the Illini were celebrating their first conference tournament championship in 16 years, Turner texted Holtmann.

“I told him the way the guys stuck together and battled through a four-day war made me proud to be a Buckeye,” Turner said. “And I wished him luck in the future.”

It was exactly the type of message Holtmann had been attempting to deliver to what was an emotional locker room. Saturday, following a 68-67 win against top-seeded Michigan that came down to a shot at the buzzer missed by the Wolverines, Holtmann and senior CJ Walker shared an embrace on the court.

A joyous Walker, an Indianapolis native, exclaimed, “We’re going to a Big Ten championship, coach,” grinning from ear to ear and giving a two-handed hug to Holtmann near the tunnel to the team’s locker room. It was a run that is inseparable from the way the regular season ended, with a four-game losing streak hovering over the team. Upon arrival in Indianapolis, Thursday’s game against Minnesota became a crucial one not only because of the chance to advance, but because of where the season could head if it proved to be a fifth straight loss.

Once they won that game, the vibe changed.

“Losing four in a row is not easy to deal with,” Walker said after Sunday’s loss. “(You’ve) gotta figure out what’s wrong, what’s right. To figure it out in March is a great time to figure it out. I’m confident in our team. I feel like the overall theme is being connected. As long as we do that, I feel like we’ll go pretty far.”

A downcast Holtmann pointed to a different type of connection after the game, one that binds these Buckeyes with the ones who came before them.

“We had a lot of emotional guys and a lot of emotional coaches,” he said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t expect anything else of this group. They had real high-level belief in what we could be and they didn’t come for anything other than a championship. It was just really emotional. I told them that the people that know and care about the program will care the same way.”

That includes Turner, the 2010 Big Ten tournament’s most outstanding player whose record of 31 points scored in a championship game was eclipsed Sunday when Duane Washington Jr. finished with 32.

“We work really hard to make guys like that proud,” Holtmann said. “That sentiment means a lot to us.”

That rings true, trophy or no trophy.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy