The Buckeyes are reeling from disappointing outcomes in three straight Big Ten games. And they get no break on Friday when another conference heavyweight comes to town…Maryland.
Columbus – Three straight Big Ten losses led Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann and his staff to herd the players into a dark place and do some binge watching for the better part of three days.
The Buckeyes got red eyeballs and then red faces watching video of their shortcomings in losses against Michigan State, Rutgers and Iowa that rocked them out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll and knocked them close to the bottom of the conference.
How could a team that looked so fluid and so confident going 12-1 bottom out like this?
Holtmann told the media that opponents also have been binge watching the Buckeyes.
“League play is a different animal,’’ he said of the Big Ten. “It is really a different animal when you are 10, 12, 13 games into the season and teams are saying, ‘OK, we have this catalogue of film on all of these guys and here’s how we’re playing, here’s how we’re defending you here’s how we’re attacking you offensively.’ So there are some adjustments that need to be made on our end.’’
Ohio State (12-4, 2-3) will get no break playing a Maryland team that has two athletic 6-foot-10 inside players and a dynamite point guard in Anthony Cowan at 6:30 p.m. Friday at The Schott.
The Terps (15-3, 6-1) have lost to Seton Hall, Purdue and Virginia by a total of 11 points. They have beaten Indiana, Nebraska and Wisconsin in conference.
Cowan is the man to watch. He is averaging 17.8 points and 4.1 rebounds and has 38 three-pointers.
“He’s shifty –crafty,’’ Holtmann said. “He is a dynamic point guard.’’
One of the men in the middle, 6-10 Bruno Fernando of Angola, gets his teammates excited with his defense and rebounding. He leads the Big Ten in blocked shot average (2.2) and is second in rebounding at 9.9.
Senior walk-on guard Joey Lane has had the best view in the house when it comes to the Buckeyes, and he said he’s seeing some of the best opponents in major college.
“Winning the Big Ten is hard,’’ Lane said. “People talk about it being the best conference in the country, especially winning on the road. We knew that playing tough and more together is important to us and that’s the way we have to play to win and we needed a little bit of a reminder.’’
Holtmann was asked about whether fans got spoiled watching the team win 25 games and finishing second in the Big Ten last season with a collection of newbies and remnants from the Thad Matta era. The prevailing thought was that it would take years for the staff to turn around the team, what with the inherited players showing every sign of being square pegs in round holes.
Then Keita Bates-Diop started playing like the Big Ten player of the year, Jae’Sean Tate turned into one of the most passionate players in the country and role players had their back most every night.
There was every indication that this season would be full of growing pains, but things changed after non-conference wins over Cincinnati, Creighton and UCLA that led to 12 wins in 13 games.
“I try not to use terminology along those lines,’’ Holtmann said of rebuilding. “I let other people work through that. I did think that with the number of new freshmen and sophomores we were going to be playing that there would be some transition, and now we’re facing that with adversity for the first time. We’ll see if we can adjust and play better.’’
There is, Holtmann said, no sneaking up on anybody.
“Listen, when you go 12-1 it changes your perspective, the fans’ perspective and everybody’s expectations and thoughts,’’ he said. “That’s just reality. The number of people who told me in the off-season that you made a critical error by winning in your first year, I could rattle off 100 (of those people).
“There is going to be an energy you face when you go 15-3 the next time you play people and have a number by your name. If we’re not tough enough or strong willed enough or don’t play with an edge, we won’t like the results.’’
Two players in particular, senior guards C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods, are on the spot going against Maryland because their play has run hot and cold for some time.
Jackson admitted after the Iowa loss that his leadership leaves a lot to be desired and that he has got to get better immediately. Iowa was the first game this season in which he did not start.
Woods appears to have a confidence problem. Too many times he has been apprehensive and seems to just want to fit in.
“I just know from here on out I have to be aggressive,’’ he said.
What is his take on the team’s situation?
“We’ve just got to find our rhythm again,’’ he said. “We need to be executing at the offensive end and really getting up on guys on defense. There’s nothing the coaches can do. It’s on us as players. The more we watched film of the last three games the more we noticed we were off a little. We’ve focused on us and being who we are and that tough-minded team everybody says we are.’’
No one could ever accuse Woods, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, of being selfish or full of himself. With him, it’s almost always pass first.
“Keyshawn, and I’ve learned this about him, is that he wants to do everything perfectly,’’ Holtmann said. “He wants to do everything right. By nature, I think he’s a bit of a pleaser and can get down on himself and discouraged. I think he’s struggling a little bit. Listen, what we’re doing is not easy. You have to face these struggles, grit your teeth and move on.’’
Before Michigan State, Holtmann was concerned about the Buckeyes getting complacent. Now, he’s trying to build them back up.
It’s important, he said, not to let the players get beaten down by failure and worry about “results, results, results.’’
“The most difficult thing probably is managing the overall individual temperature of guys and the collective temperature of guys throughout a difficult stretch,’’ he said. “That’s a challenge. Some guys are struggling with their overall confidence. When you hit bumps in the road and we’ve got a team collectively could be struggling a little with that and I’ve got to figure out how to get them some.’’
And that’s difficult for a coach who lives the ups and down 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s hard,’’ he said. “You feel losses way more than you feel wins. Your family feels them and you feel them and in some ways you’ve got to make sure your team doesn’t feel them like you do. You don’t want them to have the weight of the world (on their shoulders). I believe in this group that they are going to have the right attitude and the right approach.’’