The No. 17 Ohio State men’s basketball team had a sour taste from a loss it wanted to be rid of by any means necessary.
The players remembered what that tasted like, and what led to the loss.
Ohio State got off to a slow start Tuesday in its first game since a buzzer-beater loss to Penn State, which had been the norm for the team over the last few games. However, unlike in past games where it could turn on the jets at the right moment, it allowed Penn State to rack up plenty of points. When the Buckeyes mounted their comeback in the last minutes of the game, it was too late.
That couldn’t happen again. The players knew it.
So the Buckeyes exploded in the first half, outscoring Indiana 38-23 en route to a 71-56 victory against the Hoosiers. Their top player, redshirt junior Keita Bates-Diop, struggled and scored just six points and turned the ball over three times in the half. He finished the game with a double-double, matching points and rebounds at 13.
For once, however, it seemed he was not the go-to guy for production. He got off to a slow start, and the Buckeyes carried the weight he left for them.
Indiana head coach Archie Miller said that even without the early production from Bates-Diop, his supporting cast did what it needed to do to push the Buckeyes off to that fast start.
“I think their other guys are pretty underappreciated in terms of how they affect the game,” Miller said. “Their guards can really shoot it. They really keep the floor spaced. I think [Ohio State senior forward Jae’Sean] Tate’s probably one of the best jack-of-all-trade guys you can play against.”
Earlier in the year, Tate and Bates-Diop were frequently mentioned by Holtmann as the two players who would have to produce for the team to have success. Tate did exactly that, leading the team with 16 points and finishing second with six rebounds, while Bates-Diop scored six points less than his average and grabbed 13 rebounds.
However, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann cited the leadership Tate demonstrated after Ohio State’s loss to Penn State as one of the defining factors in his team’s win Tuesday.
Tate said after Ohio State’s loss to Penn State that the team had been fortunate, escaping with wins despite getting off to slow starts and finally, their luck ran out. That type of self-awareness, to be able to identify the problem before the coach brings it up, is why Holtmann believes Tate has become one of the driving forces behind his team’s success.
“Certainly guys are going to listen if I say something, but they’re really going to pay attention when JT says it because he’s earned the right to grab their attention,” Holtmann said. “You really want to be a player-led team as much as possible. Particularly this time of year. I think if you’re not, if you’re not a player-led team, you could have issues.”
Around this time of year, it can be difficult to correct mistakes that become a trend. Ohio State seemingly made a habit of falling behind to teams and relying on its ability to come back late to win.
But they adjusted. The Buckeyes did not come out of the gate sluggish against Indiana. It came out of the gate on fire. They made seven of their first eight tries from 2-point range.
“I think our guys recognize that if we don’t, it’s going to be another long night,” Holtmann said. “You don’t necessarily win or lose the game in the first four minutes, but there is a tone that could be set that you hope that your guys recognize is really important. And they did. I was pleased with them.”
Fresh off a stinging loss, it would have been easy to envision the Buckeyes starting slow. That is what last season’s team would have done. Instead of remembering the loss it suffered to Penn State, the Buckeyes seemed to embrace it and turned it into motivation to avoid another defeat.
“You see it all the time where teams take one loss and it becomes another loss and another loss,” Tate said. “It really went back to what it was before when we got on our stretch at the beginning. We had to remind ourselves to play with that chip and play with that energy and effort at the beginning of the games.”
The loss to Penn State could have become an omen of more losses stemming from slow starts and devastating endings, all of which could be avoided if the team jumps out of the gate.
Last season’s team seemed to allow losses to not bother them. The players ate a loss so many times the taste became familiar. This year, the players know only one conference loss, and they wanted to cleanse their palates.
“Just having that sour taste in their mouth against Penn State,” Tate said, “I think they’ve done a great job of answering the call, making sure that it doesn’t happen again.”