Notes: Ohio State's Duane Washington cools off in loss to Oral Roberts
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The question was posed to Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann during his lone press conference leading into the NCAA Tournament.
It was Tuesday morning, and No. 2 seed Ohio State had just come up short against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament title game two days prior. The Buckeyes were recovering from the grind that had been four games in four days and were just beginning their preparations for Friday’s first-round game against No. 15 seed Oral Roberts at Purdue’s Mackey Arena.
The Golden Eagles were headlined by the nation’s leading scorer, a 6-1, 165-pound guard named Max Abmas. Conversely, the Buckeyes were led by 6-3, 210-pound guard Duane Washington Jr., a free-shooting scoring machine who had just put up 92 points during the conference tournament.
Would the game turn into a one-on-one matchup, with each player vying for top billing? Holtmann didn’t think so.
“I would hope that Duane’s mature enough to understand this is, you’re playing to win every possession,” Holtmann said Tuesday. “Playing to win, whatever that requires, but it certainly doesn’t require getting involved in a one-on-one battle. I think he’s mature enough to understand that. I think Duane’s really growing in his ability to stay aggressive and yet also play the game the right way. I really believe he’s grown tremendously in that area, but it’s also an ongoing process for him.”
It proved prescient for the first few minutes of Friday’s game. Oral Roberts opened with a 7-0 run that saw Abmas score five points, three on a shot from well behind the line, before the Buckeyes answered with a 10-0 run of their own with eight of the points coming from Washington.
The Oral Roberts guard answered a Washington three with one of his own, tying the game at 10, and two possessions later Washington buried his third in a row. Not even five minutes in, Ohio State led 13-10 and Washington had 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting while Abmas had eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.
As it turned out, Abmas was just getting started and Washington was nearly done. Abmas would finish with 29 points and hit five three-pointers while Washington scored six more points in the final 40 minutes of the game and missed 14 of his final 17 shots.
“Maybe he was pressing a little bit,” Holtmann said. “This was a lot of guys’ first real experience and the pressure of an NCAA Tournament game. Maybe I could’ve done some things to relax him because he played uncharacteristically, maybe a little too wound up. He had some clean looks that he missed and then he had a couple poor decisions. Duane’s a guy that has been such a terrific player for us all year, but he’ll use this as a learning experience.”
The game ended with Washington getting a straight-on, wide-open look at a three that could’ve sent the game to double overtime. Instead, it clanged off the back of the rim, and Washington had to hide his face in his jersey to hide his emotions.
“He had some clean looks,” Holtmann said. “He had two really clean looks there late that I believe he’s gonna make, that he’s made a lot of. One off an action out of a timeout (down 72-66) and the other off a rebound late (at the buzzer).”
Who had the right mindset?
Coming off a charge in the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes had taken down a pair of NCAA Tournament teams and eventually succumbed to another in Illinois that would capture a No. 1 seed. It gave Ohio State its highest seed since a four-year run where it was either a No. 1 or 2 seed from 2010-13.
Oral Roberts, a No. 15 seed, didn’t bring the brand name of the Fighting Illini, Michigan or most of Ohio State’s schedule this season. But three different members of Friday’s game professed a different attitude about the approach to the game.
First, Oral Roberts junior Kevin Obanor was asked Wednesday about his mindset going against the Buckeyes.
“I put my shoes on just like they put they shoes on,” Obanor said. “If you’re good, you’ve got to show. They’re a very physical team. They spread the court a lot. They have great pieces, but I don’t fear nobody but God. I’m not scared in that aspect.”
Ohio State, meanwhile, was charged with shaking off a disappointing loss to the Illini and getting hyped for the program’s first-ever meeting with Oral Roberts. After the game, Holtmann was asked if his players brought the proper attitude to the meeting.
“I thought the vibe was really good,” the coach said. “I thought our preparation was really good.”
CJ Walker, who played his final game for the Buckeyes, offered his own opinion when asked about getting up for a game against a No. 15 seed.
“It’s most definitely challenging because the Big Ten tournament last week, we played really well against some really good teams. Top-opponent teams. Coming into this game, it’s mental over physical. We took it for granted thinking we could come in here and just win the game. Oral Roberts took advantage of that and made the right plays at the right time.”
Take that for what it’s worth.
Buckeyes go cold for long stretches
Against a team ranked 247 th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, the Buckeyes endured plenty of offensive lulls that helped keep the Golden Eagles around.
Ohio State didn’t score on its first two possessions, then scored on four straight and seven of its next eight to build a 17-12 lead. That run ended with a Musa Jallow layup with 14:15 to play, and Ohio State would miss eight of its next 10 shots, getting a pair of buckets from Zed Key as its only field goals in a stretch of 8:11. Oral Roberts would go 1 for 15 during this time, making it a golden missed opportunity for the Buckeyes to assert themselves and take control.
After its opening spurt in getting to 17 points, Ohio State wouldn’t score on three straight possessions again until the final 3:05 of the first half.
In the second half, the Buckeyes tied the game at 42 on a Justin Ahrens three with 16:28 left but wouldn’t score again until a CJ Walker three-point play with 11:49 left. In between, they missed five shots, turned it over four times and missed two free throws.
Ohio State would finally heat up and put itself in position to win in the closing minutes. Down 51-47, the Buckeyes got an and-one from E.J. Liddell with 8:34 to play to make it a one-point game, and from there they would score on three straight possessions and nine of their last 10 to pull ahead, 64-60, with 2:34 left.
Then the late-game issues that have hampered Ohio State all season reared up again, and this time there were no answers. From there, Washington was stripped of the ball, Liddell turned it over and Oral Roberts pulled within 64-62 with 1:07 left.
Washington missed a shot after the timeout, but Liddell collected the rebound and was fouled with 36.3 seconds left. A 75.2% free-throw shooter this season, Liddell missed the front end of the one-and-one, and when Musa Jallow fouled Obanor at the other end he hit the tying free throws with 14.9 seconds left.
Regulation would end with a Washington missed three.
"Is there something I could’ve done to relax him a little bit?" Holtmann said. "That’s not why we lost the game. We lost the game because they made more plays and they were quicker to loose balls throughout the course of the game."
“I thought we did a better job in the second half of playing in the post. The problem was we knew they would collapse and trap it and we didn’t always make great finishes or decisions there in traffic. I thought our guys did a really good job. E.J. was terrific in the second half playing through contact. We didn’t do a good enough job in the first half playing through it.” - Holtmann
“This is my last time putting on this Ohio State jersey. I’m not going to let this define me, the Ohio State program or the future to come. One of those moments you have to take to the chin and figure out how to get better.” – Walker