For an Ohio State team enduring a season of stark ups and downs, its inconsistency mirrors the play of senior guard C.J. Jackson.
Having started his collegiate career as a junior college All-American and playing for two different head coaches in three years at Ohio State, unpredictability has become normal for Jackson.
On senior night Sunday, during a 73-67 overtime loss to No. 21 Wisconsin, the Buckeyes, much like they have all season, went as Jackson went.
Beginning the game 0-of-11 from the field, Ohio State put up just 16 points in the first half on 20.7 percent shooting, while Jackson was involved in two straight Buckeye turnovers in the final minute.
However, Jackson exploded for 17 points in the second half and overtime, which helped bring the Buckeyes back from a 23-point deficit.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said he admired the way Jackson responded with his back against the wall.
“I thought he played really aggressive, that’s why I went to him late,” Holtmann said.
Jackson tied the game with 36 seconds remaining and drew a charge on the next play, but his attempt at a game-winner found nothing but air. He then missed two out of his four overtime free throws.
After sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson’s indefinite suspension, Jackson, the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.8 points a game, was expected to shoulder more of the offensive load.
Instead, Jackson has averaged six points over his past five games entering Sunday, despite putting up 13.8 a game in the six games before that.
His 22 points on Sunday were his most since Dec. 22 and his first double-digit scoring night since Feb. 14.
That volatile nature is fitting of a team that began the season winning 12 of 13 before losing six out of its next seven, and has now dropped four of its past five games to close out the regular season.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said the Buckeyes’ late-season skid has taken a toll on his team.
“It’s miserable,” Holtmann said. “You don’t sleep, you don’t eat. You’re searching for answers in some ways.”
That misery was spelled out on Jackson’s face after Sunday’s game, as he could not hold back tears after the final buzzer.
This season has taken a physical toll on Jackson as well, missing Ohio State’s Feb. 23 loss to Maryland with a shoulder injury on top of nursing a tweaked left ankle.
Playing through difficult circumstances is nothing new for Jackson, though.
After a year with Eastern Florida State, Jackson joined the Buckeyes in 2016 amid the controversy of five players transferring out of Thad Matta’s program.
Jackson is one of three current Buckeyes to have played for Matta, along with junior forward Andre Wesson and senior guard Joey Lane.
Lane said in his postgame speech that he and Jackson worked to change the culture of the program through the transition of a new coaching staff with Holtmann taking over the reins.
Holtmann’s first year with the Buckeyes saw surprising success, as Jackson was a key component in getting Ohio State to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but this season the team runs the risk of missing it altogether.
However, with Jackson’s Sunday night performance, sparking a 51-point second half from the Buckeyes, Ohio State appears to have found out how to have success offensively without Wesson moving into postseason play.
“I think that just goes to show when we are clicking, offensively and defensively, what we can be,” Jackson said.
Moving into the Big Ten tournament, Jackson and Ohio State may not have the answers for more consistent play, but Holtmann said he is never concerned about his point guard’s level of commitment.
“He cares about his teammates and his team as much as anybody that I’ve ever coached,” Holtmann said. “You see it and you feel it every day with C.J.”