Chris Holtmann has never been one to shy away from big non-conference games. In his time as head coach at Butler, he helped schedule matchups against the perennial college basketball powerhouses.
Opponents that would test his teams. Test the resiliency of his roster.
Holtmann brought those same ideas with him to Ohio State. When gaining control of the schedule, the second-year head coach planned a home-and-home with Cincinnati, the first time Ohio State has played the Bearcats within state borders since 1920.
With the weight of the series history between the Bearcats and the Buckeyes, with the weight of the recruiting implications, Holtmann used this opportunity to test his team like he tested Butler.
And Ohio State lived up to the first test, defeating Cincinnati 64-56 on Wednesday, starting the season with a road win in an environment.
To senior guard C.J. Jackson, it’s just the kind of person Holtmann is: a resilient and work-hard personality that Ohio State molded into as he built his program.
“Once he kind of got his hands on this team, it was so new,” Jackson said. “Last year’s team was kind of established, we were all from kind of another coaching staff, so this team is basically kind of his team, so we all just took after him and that win has a lot to do with coach Holtmann.”
Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson knew what was coming first. As the freshmen and the new members of the program became acclimated with Ohio State, this Cincinnati game had been circled on the calendar for months.
It was the first opportunity for the Buckeyes to show what they had without the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and without their emotional leader.
This was a mentality that Wesson felt as Ohio State neared the first game of the season.
“Nobody respects us like they did last year,” Wesson said. “So, I tell everybody just get real disrespectful in your preparations.”
Ohio State came out for its first game of the season already with a chip on its shoulder. For Holtmann’s team, he said the main priority, especially for an unproven team such as this one, is to make an impact defensively, something the Buckeyes showed Wednesday night.
The Buckeyes allowed Cincinnati to shoot 27.4 percent from the field, with the Bearcats making 6-of-26 from behind the 3-point line.
Even with the announcement of the transfer of junior forward Micah Potter, Wesson and sophomore forward Kyle Young stepped up, both starting at forward with Young backing up Wesson at the center spot, the spot Potter would have had. Wesson and Young combined for 15 of Ohio State’s 33 rebounds.
It also gave an opportunity for the new players to show what they could do in a Buckeye uniform.
Wesson said a game like this is a good opportunity for the younger players to get a chance to see what this level of play is all about, setting the tone for the remainder of the season.
“I feel like having it early for the young guys, they see what college basketball is about, how tough it is, how the trenches are,” Wesson said.
And that’s the point. That’s the point of the tough schedule to start the season for Holtmann and his Ohio State team. To test his players early. To see what their flaws are, to see what needs to improve prior to Big Ten play, prior to when important games become more of a reality.
Resiliency is something teams don’t normally form after the first game of the season. But it’s something Jackson sees from his teammates day one.
“I think we found out what type of guys we got. It’s guys that really care. We can’t really go wrong,” Jackson said. “Everybody is going to make mistakes. It’s a long game and it’s new. We are a new team. New faces. So as long as they give their all, you can’t really ask for anything else.”