BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana had already made its comeback against Ohio State. After trailing by nine points with 6:29 left in the game, the Hoosiers managed to tie the game, hitting three 3s in the next three possessions.
Trading baskets with Ohio State with the game tied at 49, Indiana junior guard Devonte Green hit a deep 3, a supposed dagger, causing an eruption from the 17,000-plus in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
With the arena buzzing with an excitement, creating a momentum that seemed impossible for the Buckeyes to overcome, redshirt senior guard Keyshawn Woods passed the ball to senior guard C.J. Jackson, who, after holding it for three seconds, threw up and made what head coach Chris Holtmann called “a prayer.”
“How many times has he done that in his career?” Holtmann said.
But this shot, this prayer that secured an eventual three-point victory for Ohio State, tied the game the Buckeyes had in its grasp for the majority of the contest, first losing the lead with Green’s 3 with 1:46 left in the game.
Throughout the contest, it was prototypical Ohio State basketball: inconsistency ruled in Bloomington.
In the first half, the Buckeyes struggled offensively, making 10-of-26 attempts from the field, and struggled to keep possession, recording nine turnovers and allowing 11 points off those mistakes.
Jackson said these are the kind of games that unite teams: to be able to beat a team on the road, but do so with things to work and improve on, knowing there is still a lot of work to be done.
But the senior guard said there is momentum on Ohio State’s side after a win like this.
“It feels like we are kind of getting our stride back that we had earlier in the season,” he said.
But this stride, according to Holtmann, is a different kind of stride than the one the Buckeyes were on in nonconference play.
This is a stride in which, he said, players and coaches can take time to appreciate the process of team building and going through trials as a group.
“When you live in the valley a little bit, you tend to appreciate the climb to the mountaintop,” Holtmann said. “Maybe it’s just going through what we went through in that stretch that kind of forces you to appreciate this journey we are on and appreciate winning a game and enjoying the moment because that can get lost a little bit when you are 12-1.”
The head coach said it takes a group of players that have been through rough stretches and tough times to set the tone on what the process should look like.
He looked to junior forward Andre Wesson, who, scoring a team-leading 15 points, put down a dunk with 20 seconds left to secure the victory, setting up the play solely for the veteran.
But this process is something Holtmann has tried to ingrain within his coaching from Day 1.
“I don’t know if that’s just something you can turn on in the middle of February, this idea of just playing to the next play and staying with it,” Holtmann said. “You know you get so frustrated, coaches get frustrated, players get frustrated, but it’s a fast game, and if you let it get the best of you, then you got no chance.”
That’s an improvement Ohio State saw in the second half, shooting 50 percent from the field, making 5-of-9 from 3 and recording six turnovers.
Ohio State is focused on what’s next. But it’s what is immediately next: the next play, the next game, not the Big Ten tournament or whether the team will earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Because Holtmann knows how this game could have gone, mentioning what could have been the game-winner for Indiana — a 3-point attempt by freshman guard Romeo Langford that rimmed out late in the second half.
“It was a fight to the finish,” Holtmann said.
And it’s the immediate fight that he and Ohio State are focused on.