Time to recharge the tanks: Buckeyes seek rest, recovery before NCAA Tournament

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra

The thing Ohio State needs more than anything as it starts to wade into March Madness is the only option at its disposal.

Sunday evening, as the nation was tuning into the NCAA Tournament selection show, the Buckeyes were feeling the immediate effects of a tremendous Big Ten tournament run that came up four points shy of a championship. In short, they were exhausted — mentally, physically and emotionally. And as soon as it was over, it was time to begin joining the controlled environment for the NCAA Tournament.

That would require COVID-19 testing Sunday and Monday and roughly a day and a half of isolation before hopefully starting some physical work Tuesday. It would also require the Buckeyes, the No. 2 seed in the South Region, collectively picking themselves off the floor as a Friday date with 15th-seeded Oral Roberts awaits inside Purdue’s Mackey Arena.

Coach Chris Holtmann admitted to feeling a twinge of disappointment that Ohio State couldn't close the deal in the Big Ten championship game, but he added that he felt nothing but pride about how hard and how well the Buckeyes played.

“It was an emotional locker room,” coach Chris Holtmann said after the loss to Illinois. “I told them that they carry the weight of making every former Buckeye proud, every Buckeye fan, everybody who loves this university; and I told them they did.

“Listen, we came close to a championship and it’s exceedingly disappointing, but what I’m not disappointed in is their resolve, their heart, their effort.”

Among the proud former players is Evan Turner, whose record of 31 points scored in a Big Ten tournament game was eclipsed by Duane Washington Jr.’s 32 points in Sunday’s final against Illinois. Thad Matta was his coach, but Turner has built a relationship with Holtmann and remains close to the program.

“I told (Holtmann) the way the guys stuck together and battled through a four-day war made me proud to be a Buckeyes,” Turner told The Dispatch. “And I wished him luck in the future.”

Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell, here converting a second-half dunk on Sunday against Illinois, logged 137 of physical basketball in the Buckeyes' run to the Big Ten tournament final.

In wins against Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan and the loss to Illinois, Ohio State played 170 minutes of basketball in four days. Washington led the way with 148 minutes, scoring a tournament-record 92 points. E.J. Liddell logged 137 minutes and joined him on the all-tournament team, while Justice Sueing shook off an undisclosed groin procedure he underwent the previous Sunday to play 134 minutes, including all but three in the overtime loss to Illinois.

By the end of the Illinois game, Washington could hardly stand. Sueing spent most of his bench time during the tournament with what looked to be a hot towel on his groin. Seth Towns, after having averaged 4.4 minutes in his first 21 appearances since missing two seasons due to a knee injury, averaged 23.3 minutes in Ohio State’s past three games.

His minutes were inflated by the loss of Kyle Young, who suffered a concussion during Friday’s game against Purdue. It was his second concussion in less than three weeks, and he wasn’t able to be with the team Saturday but was in the locker room Sunday.

“I don’t have any new information right now,” Holtmann said Monday on his weekly radio show. “He’s still being evaluated day to day. I think right now, we’re optimistic that he’s making progress … not sure what his availability will be right now.”

The key now will be to recharge what Ohio State alumnus Clark Kellogg, the 1982 Big Ten player of the year and current CBS college basketball analyst, described Monday as the three fuel tanks inside each player: emotional, mental and physical.

“When the amber light comes on in any or all of those areas, you need time to recharge and get it back to full,” he said. “That’s a resilient group. I think they’ll find a way to fill back up.”

The Buckeyes did it when the regular season came to a close, turning a four-game losing streak into a charge to the conference title game — one the Buckeyes led with two minutes to play in overtime after trailing by as many as 17 points during the first half.

Now they get to try and do it again on the biggest stage there is.

“We’ll always be grateful to go to March Madness, being a (No.) 2 seed and being able to have this opportunity to keep playing in these tough times,” fifth-year senior CJ Walker said. “(We’ll) try to recover as best as possible and get our bodies right. Bounce back and go win a national title.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

Ohio State vs. Oral Roberts

Where: West Lafayette, Ind.

When: 3 p.m. Friday

TV: CBS (Ch. 10)

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)