Despite the disappointment that abounded on Sunday, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team did just about everything that was expected of them this season, even overachieving by beating Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and — in the process — securing their 20th win of the season. However, ultimately, they didn’t have enough to extend the overachieving any further, as a more talented and deeper Houston team ended their season on Sunday night.
That’s fine. It was expected, and as Ohio State fans, players, and coaches know, the future in Columbus is extremely bright.
However, despite the urge to look towards that future, I’d like to take a moment and appreciate what Ohio State had this year. I’d like to take a moment to appreciate Keyshawn Woods, C.J. Jackson, and Joey Lane. None of them put up record-shattering numbers and none of them will be remembered as Ohio State all-time greats, but every single one of them deserves adoration and appreciation from Ohio State’s fan base. They helped deliver Ohio State through a coaching transition that could’ve been extremely tumultuous by providing the leadership necessary to help it run smoothly.
They always played with full effort, every time that they saw the floor, and represented Ohio State basketball in a way that should make every Buckeye fan extremely proud. They cared deeply for this program and university, and showed it every single time that they put on the scarlet and gray. From C.J. Jackson’s wild buzzer-beaters against Indiana, to Keyshawn Woods knocking down a runner against the Hoosiers that — in all likelihood — sent Ohio State to the Big Dance, to Joey Lane creating a minor earthquake in St. John Arena with a three-pointer against Cleveland State, all three have given Buckeye fans plenty of memories from an era that could’ve been defined by dejection and struggle.
They’ve served as excellent ambassadors for the program, and all three deserve to be remembered extremely fondly by Ohio State fans.
I owe Keyshawn Woods an apology. For much of the season — as he struggled with his aggressiveness and shooting — I doubted his ability to contribute consistently at Ohio State. I questioned if his mid-range heavy game would work in an offense without a ton of outside shooting. I wondered — often aloud online — if he should even be playing at all, suggesting that a younger player like Duane Washington Jr. should be seeing that playing time in preparation for the future.
I was wrong. I certainly wasn’t alone in my criticism, and at times, the criticism was certainly merited, especially when Woods hit double-digit points just once from Dec. 18 to Feb. 20; an 11-point showing against Rutgers. He averaged just under five points in that stretch, and shot what I can only imagine is the worst percentage of his career, hitting just 34 percent of his shots from the field.
That stretch is when the doubt that Woods, could be anything more than that started to set in. That was unfair to Keyshawn, and he showed us why in his final nine games as a Buckeye. Thirteen points per game on 46 percent shooting and just one turnover a game. In Ohio State’s final four games of the season, easily the four most important of the year, Woods averaged 15.8 points per game, and was pretty consistently Ohio State’s best scoring option without the number 34 on the back of his jersey.
C.J. Jackson is one of the most clutch players that I’ve ever seen at Ohio State, and that almost makes it more frustrating that he was forced into a position, due to roster attrition, where he could never really show off his shot-creating ability. This is primarily due to the fact that Ohio State hasn’t had a true point guard since D’Angelo Russell, and certainty hasn’t since Jackson arrived as a junior-college transfer in 2016. Despite spending much of his career prior to Ohio State as a combo-guard, usually playing off of the ball, Jackson had to learn a new position to see the floor in Columbus.
To say he’s done an admirable job learning how to be a point guard over the years — under two different coaching staffs — would be an understatement. He was the primary backup for JaQuan Lyle in 2016, and has been Chris Holtmann’s most trusted ball-handler and distributor for each of his final two seasons. Again, Jackson wasn’t supposed to be a point guard. This was new to him.
Also new to him was his newfound responsibilities as a leader, and as one of just three seniors on Ohio State’s 2018-19 roster. Again, he adjusted, and by the end of the season, Jackson was very obviously a trusted voice in the locker room, and a player that the droves of underclassmen on this roster knew that they could lean on for whatever they needed help with.
He never asked for that responsibility when he came to Ohio State (and has said as much in numerous interviews), but took it in stride and — despite experiencing growing pains through even his final game — was able to help carry an extremely young roster that, frankly, had no business in the NCAA Tournament, let alone in the Round of 32.
Jackson wasn’t alone as a leader on this roster. Andre Wesson has become a legitimately awesome glue guy as a junior, and will be the heart and soul of the 2019-20 roster. Keyshawn Woods has been a calming force for the team all year. And there is, of course, one last person that you just cannot forget when eulogizing the 2018-19 Buckeyes.
Joey Lane. Smoke. Joey Buckets. The man of a thousand nicknames, and many, many more fans.
The former walk-on’s energy and constant optimism has been a crucial component of the first two years of Holtmann’s tenure in Columbus. He has the exact attitude that Holtmann wants from his players, and his constant celebration of others, the invention of #TowelGang, and positive energy have all served as an excellent example for his younger teammates.
That’s why he was named as a captain back in December, why he was rewarded with some legitimately important playing time late in the season, and why he’s led Ohio State out onto the court prior to warm-ups every game this season. His impact is much larger than the few times that he did see the floor. His impact is — per an excellent article from The Lantern — much larger than just as an “energy guy” on the bench.
Joey Buckets is a huge help in scouting, coaching, and even recruiting. It’s pretty easy to imagine him sliding right into coaching as he likely ends his playing career.
That’s the stuff fans don’t really see. That’s the stuff that only players and coaches ever really see, and the greatest endorsement of someone like Lane is the kind of love that he receives from his coaches and fellow players. He may not be headed for a book deal and a successful podcast like some other former walk-on legends from Ohio State, but he most certainly made his mark in Columbus.
All of these incredibly contributions, leadership, and selflessness were obviously not enough for Ohio State to piece together a Cinderella run with a roster that just wasn’t all that ready for major competition. But what the 2019 Ohio State men’s basketball senior class did do was lay the groundwork for what very well might be the next Golden Age of Buckeye basketball.