Ohio State departs Bahamas with ideas, confidence after beating Egypt and Puerto Rico

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Things aren’t what they seem inside the Imperial Arena. The walls, which look to be solid stone, are actually squishy to the touch. Even the name given to the room is misleading – the site of the annual Battle 4 Atlantis tournament is also known as the Imperial Ballroom and is accessible through heavy wooden doors flanked by lights that look like torches.

It’s all an illusion as part of the full Atlantis experience, one that allows guests to tour the “ruins” of the lost city, plunge down slides from inside an artificial Mayan temple or spend time with a mermaid. The reality contains a fair amount of fantasy, and that’s where the Ohio State men’s basketball team now also finds itself after a pair of on-site exhibition games.

The Buckeyes closed their extended summer practice session with wins against the Egyptian and Puerto Rican national teams. In both games, the Buckeyes fell behind early, rallied before halftime and led for the majority of the second half while playing under FIBA rules against teams that were physical and organized, albeit less talented than a Big Ten counterpart.

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The statistics won’t return to the mainland with the Buckeyes and the wins will have no bearing on an NCAA Tournament seed. For a team with seven newcomers all expected to see significant minutes on a rebuilt roster, the fruits of this experience require a little more patience and examination to be properly applied.

“I’ve never learned more about a team on a trip like this than what I have here,” coach Chris Holtmann said after the 75-68 win against Puerto Rico on August 7. “I think that was mission accomplished. I’ve been on these trips and some of it is we’ve never had so many new faces but also we learned more about our team in these two games than on any other trip I’ve ever been on like this.”

The ongoing recovery processes for veterans Justice Sueing and Seth Towns meant the Buckeyes weren’t at full strength. Holtmann used two different starting lineups for the games. When someone made a mistake that needed to be addressed, a quick hook and a sideline talk were frequently used methods in Holtmann’s arsenal.

Teaching, learning and familiarity were among the top goals, all of which are difficult to quantify but important to establish as quickly as possible.

Of his team's trip to the Bahamas, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said, "I’ve never learned more about a team on a trip like this than what I have here."

“I feel like we built a lot of good connections,” said Wright State transfer Tanner Holden, who was third in scoring with 21 points in the two games. “We spent a lot of time with each other, and with having a lot of new guys on this team that was a big emphasis with coach Holtmann – to build a bigger bond, build a stronger bond with the new guys and the returning guys. I thought we did a great job with that.”

Third-year center Zed Key, who was second with 22 points, pointed out that if not for this trip, the Buckeyes would have been home on their own instead of sharing hotel rooms with teammates and playing games against competition Holtmann said was specifically scheduled because it would force his players to grow through adversity rather than stacking up lopsided wins against lesser-talented teams.

“We couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Key said. “We had two close games against two teams that will resemble in a lot of ways teams we’ll play once we start playing real games. I just didn’t want to play a team that wasn’t going to resemble what it’ll look like in November and December and January.”

Of the 11 available scholarship players, all but freshman Bowen Hardman played in both games and all but Hardman and redshirt freshman Kalen Etzler scored. Freshman Brice Sensabaugh led the Buckeyes with 35 points while taking a team-high 27 shots. In both games, Ohio State fended off late charges and found ways to win.

The play-by-play and the box scores reflect that. What doesn’t show up are things like learning who takes the final shot of the half, or who steps up to shut down a hot shooter or how far apart to be after a ball screen to properly space the floor.

Those things take time. Monday, the Buckeyes enjoyed a morning catamaran cruise before having the rest of the day to themselves. Some hit up the casino (the gambling age is 18 in the Bahamas), some took another tour of the water slides and some retreated for afternoon naps.

An early-afternoon Tuesday flight loomed on the itinerary. The Buckeyes will disperse to their families for roughly two weeks and return to campus during the weekend of August 20 to prepare for the fall semester.

When they do, they’ll start to build on what transpired this summer.

“I think everybody showed something that will help us in our journey to a Big Ten title,” Holden said. “That was really, really big for us, to start to see some of the pieces come together. Once we come back from the Bahamas, get back before the semester starts, we can fine-tune things and focus on what we need to focus on and really hit the ground running when the season comes around.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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