High-flying Ohio State offense looks for answers to reduce turnovers

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

In a lot of ways, Ohio State has handled the void left by last year’s experienced backcourt surprisingly well. With Duane Washington’s playmaking abilities earning him time with the Indiana Pacers, and CJ Walker’s typically steady hand directing an offense in Germany, the Buckeyes have put together an offense that again ranks among the nation’s 10 most efficient.

Entering Thursday’s road game against Indiana, Ohio State is seventh in adjusted offensive efficiency, averaging 116.0 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom.com. The Buckeyes are second in the Big Ten in shooting percentage (.489), third in 3-point shooting percentage (.397) and fifth in total scoring average (76.7).

Now, imagine those numbers if Ohio State didn’t rank fifth in the league in turnovers per game (12.82) and 171st nationally in turnover percentage, turning it over on 18.8% of its possessions, per KenPom.

It’s a tempting thought, but something that might not be wholly attainable this season.

Holtmann: Turnovers will be higher with young Ohio State team

“I think I’ve accepted the fact that we’re not going to have the same turnover percentage that we had last year,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “We had older guys that had been in our program for two, three, four years and we had guys that were experienced in what we were doing.”

Last season, the Buckeyes finished 18th nationally in turnover percentage at 15.5%, meaning that was the percentage of possessions that ended in a turnover. It was the program’s lowest total during the KenPom era dating back to the 1996-97 season and only the second time Ohio State has finished in the top 100 under Holtmann (the 2017-18 team was 84th at 17.1%).

E.J. Liddell leads Ohio State with 35 turnovers this season.

The four players who primarily handle the ball for the Buckeyes this year — guards Malaki Branham, Meechie Johnson Jr. and Jamari Wheeler and forward E.J. Liddell — all have the four highest turnover totals on the roster. Liddell leads the team with 35, in part due to a seven-turnover game against Towson, while Johnson (21), Branham (20) and Wheeler (19) follow.

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Sunday night, Ohio State committed 16 turnovers in the overtime win at Nebraska. That 22% turnover rate was its second-highest mark for the season, trailing a loss to Florida in which the Buckeyes turned it over on 26.1% of their possessions. Wheeler, for a second time this season, tied a career high with five turnovers.

Meechie Johnson Jr. has committed 21 turnovers this season, second on the team behind E.J. Liddell's 35.

Immediately after the Nebraska game, Holtmann said he would have to see how many of his team’s mistakes were due to rust and fatigue after a 22-day layoff and how many were simply on the Buckeyes. After watching the tape, both Wheeler and Holtmann said most of the turnovers were directly on the Buckeyes and not due to the time in between games.

“They’re all on us,” Wheeler said. “It’s not like other teams are making us turn the ball over. We turn the ball over ourselves. Once we clean that up, it’s going to be even next level.”

Holtmann was quick to point out that while Liddell’s turnovers have roughly doubled this season while playing an increased playmaking role, his assist average has also climbed from 1.8 to 2.9.

Branham has had three games with one or zero turnovers, while Johnson has had two or fewer in five straight games after committing three in three of the first six games of the season. Both have been given license to grow through mistakes during their first full seasons with the program.

Indiana is 255th nationally in defensive turnover percentage, forcing teams to give it up on 17.6% of their possessions. Ohio State has not committed fewer than 10 turnovers in a game this season.

“You have new players handing the ball, and their assist-to-turnover ratio has to get better,” Holtmann said. “I just don’t think we’re going to have the numbers that we had last year. It can get better. It needs to be better.”

Sometimes, turnovers in practice lead to extra running called “11s.” Wheeler said if players have turnovers while playing games, they’ll have to run from the baseline to half-court, back, and then full-court and back in 11 seconds.

“It’s a little punishment to focus on that area a lot,” he said.

Time will tell if those sprints will be phased out.



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