If there were ever a moral victory for this edition of the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team, then what was displayed on the floor at the Xfinity Center might be just that. Playing in a road contest against a No. 24-ranked Maryland Terrapins squad, a win definitely would’ve helped the NCAA Tournament résumé for the Bucks.
However, that was before the news came that guard C.J. Jackson was going to miss the contest because of a shoulder injury. Doing some quick mental math, the subtraction of Jackson plus the real potential of Kaleb Wesson fouling out equaled a desolate hypothesis: Ohio State was going to get smoked.
However, that didn’t happen.
Things still went wrong for Chris Holtmann’s bubble squad, but with three other (potentially) ranked games on the regular season schedule, the Buckeyes still have chances to prove that they are a solid enough team for the Big Dance.
Let’s go over some of the thoughts from Saturday’s matinee, and predict what happens when Iowa comes to town next week.
1) Filling the void
When the announcement came that OSU would be Jackson-less, I thought that packing up the bus and returning to Columbus before the opening tip might be a good idea. Without the No. 2 scorer on the team, how would the Bucks hold their own against a UMD squad that has three to four players that could easily put up double-digits?
Unlike past games, Keyshawn Woods played some really solid minutes in the first half. Through the first 20, he led the team with 10 points — and was part of the reason why Ohio State was within five at halftime.
Justin Ahrens, who made his first career start, also made some quality baskets. He churned nine points (all from three-point range) and broke up some of the momentum UMD built in the second half.
In an oddity: Woods scored all his points in the first half, and Ahrens scored all of his points in the second half. It’s almost as if the hot hand couldn’t exist between three scorers.
Duane Washington Jr. ended up leading the team with 15 points, scoring a majority (9) of those points in the second half.
Without C.J. in the fold, it felt like the team understood the impact of that absence. Somewhat surprisingly, the consequence was actually better team basketball. Mistakes were held to a minimum, as OSU only committed seven turnovers for the game. Going back a couple weeks ago, turnovers destroyed the Buckeyes against Michigan State; this time around, the ability to not hit double-digit TOs — combined with forcing 15 from UMD —kept the Bucks in the game.
On Friday night, Iowa coughed the ball up 12 times en route to a narrow, six-point overtime victory at Indiana. They’ve improved a little with their ball handling, as back in January when they hosted the Buckeyes, the Hawks committed 14 turnovers. It should be noted that in that game, OSU turned the ball over a whopping 21(!) times.
Tyler Cook, in both the IU and OSU games mentioned above, had the most turnovers on his team. Another good game from Woods has to be dialed up — especially on the defensive end. He had four steals against Maryland, and if he plays decently on Wednesday, he should get at least a couple from Cook.
2. Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get
If the over/under for the amount of made threes from Ahrens was set at 1.5, I would’ve bet the farm on the under. It looked — and felt— like free money.
It’s a good thing I don’t bet.
The three made triples from Ahrens was, arguably, the most surprising thing from the game. The Buckeye freshman was feeling so confident that, after making a deep ball, he made a shushing motion with his finger — this all happening when Ohio State cut the deficit to... six. I respect that celebration, and I’m not the only one.
the official stance of this account on justin ahrens has changed. he shushed a crowd after hitting a three to cut the deficit to six, which means it’s switched. he’s good as hell now. will not be fielding questions at this time— patrick mayhorn (@patrick_mayhorn) February 23, 2019
If you would’ve bet me that Kaleb Wesson was going to have less than two fouls but struggle from the field, I would’ve bet whatever remnants of the farm I had that OSU would be blown out. Again, that seemed like free money.
Again, I would’ve been taken to the cleaners. Wesson stayed out of foul trouble, but was unproductive on the scoring front. He was held to seven points on 3-of-12 shooting. Granted, four of those misses came from downtown, but the Terps’ Bruno Fernando and company held OSU’s leading scorer in check.
Inconsistency has been the bugaboo for Ohio State this season. It always seems like they are one missing puzzle piece away from completing a masterpiece. In today’s game, Washington controlled the offense while Kaleb struggled; in other games, it’s been Kaleb leading the charge — and support falling short. And days when Kaleb fouls out, the shots are there, but the rim doesn’t cooperate.
I have subscribed to the notion that inconsistency is a staple of a young team. Luther Muhammad appeared to be the star of the show early in the year, but has been shut down in recent games. Against Maryland, he led the team in turnovers (3) and only put up three points on 1-of-8 shooting. Experience is the only way to get better, and unfortunately, there will be some tough losses along the way.
The losing streak this team went through in January has made them better. The question now is whether or not the improvement is enough to put them back into the tournament picture?
3) Can this team dig deep in crunch time?
With 5:27 remaining, Ohio State was within two. From that point to the end of the game, OSU was outscored 15-7. When Ahrens hit his three to make the game 57-55, the subsequent seven OSU possessions went like this:
- Turnover (Washington)
- Turnover (Andre Wesson)
- Missed shot (Woods)
- Made 3PT (Ahrens)
- Miss 3PT (Andre)
- Miss 3PT (Muhammad)
- Missed Shot (Woods)
Just like against Michigan State, the Buckeyes wilted in the final six minutes of the game. Making shots in crunch time is how teams keep (and lose) their spots in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa, for example, had major three-pointers fall from Jordan Bohannon on Friday night — and, because of that, the Hawkeyes rocked the Hoosiers in OT.
Who, if anyone, will be the offensive workhorse down the stretch for OSU? The stakes are incredibly high right now. Especially if Kaleb gets in foul trouble or can’t connect from the field; who will be that guy that gets the shot? Those possessions above show the variety in the attack that Holtmann has drawn up.
And the idea looks pretty good. What got Ohio State in trouble were the turnovers. They played solid basketball for most of the game, but those back-to-back TOs were costly. I feel like the turnover trouble will solve itself once the team doesn’t panic when down late. That stops the rushed passes, and the subsequent chucking of shots from three-range.
Bonus: TV times and ref reviews
This was supposed to be a nationally broadcasted game on ESPN. It would eventually appear on ESPN — but only after 16 minutes passed in the first half. Tennessee-LSU, the game prior to OSU-UMD, ran into overtime.
Combine the tight TV windows with the SEC officials, literally, reviewing three ticky-tack decisions at the end of the second half, and you have the formula for not only a restless crowd at LSU’s Cox Arena (as it appeared on TV) but you also have people trying to figure out where the hell ESPNews is on their TV lineup.
I like extra basketball. That’s not the problem. The problem is that it was clear as day that the officials were second guessing their own calls in crunch time. Dick Vitale, who was calling the game, mentioned his disapproval of the lengthy and constant reviews, as did other sportswriters.
The refs in LSU - Tennessee are a joke with these replays. Stop wasting everyone’s time.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) February 23, 2019
The Big Ten has had their fair share of questionable calls this season, but it’s the irony that blows me away. Some things can be reviewed; some things can’t be; and the things that can be reviewed, have a tendency to take entirely too long.
My take: if you want to keep the process for reviews, that’s fine — but you have to do what the Alliance of American Football does, and broadcast the conversation between the official and whoever is on the other end of the headset. Unfortunately, I feel that we’re getting to the point where the decisions for replay reviews aren’t getting a good enough explanation, and the brief interaction between ref and TV broadcasters on the outcome of said review is too vague (and too quick). Letting the people hear the rationale behind why calls are being made helps everyone involved.
Games running over their allotted time happens. But slowing contests down for unnecessary reviews is wild to me. With so much of the OSU game being missed, it almost felt like split screen would’ve been a better call than keeping Tennessee-LSU on the full screen just watching the backs of refs staring at a monitor.