Trying to head home after the team’s 68-50 loss to Northwestern, Ohio State had plane trouble, keeping the team in Evanston, Illinois for longer than expected. In that time, the coaching staff met up at a local restaurant to decompress.
The Buckeyes were coming off two straight losses: a 35-point loss against Purdue — the worst loss since Jan. 16, 2016 — and an 18-point loss to the last place team in the Big Ten.
Head coach Chris Holtmann said the coaching staff began to discuss the stretch Ohio State was in, from the loss of sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson to being a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament heading into the final game of the regular season.
Then, one assistant coach began to put Ohio State’s place in perspective, which Holtmann agreed with.
“All those factors right now, we are sitting at 18 wins with a chance, just a chance to put ourselves in better position,” Holtmann said. “I think at the beginning of the season, we would have said we embrace being in that position and we are excited about that position.”
Despite continuing to play without Wesson with an already depleted roster, Holtmann said there is an optimism required along with perspective. Otherwise, he said, it’s not going to benefit the team as a whole ahead of its most important stretch of the season.
Holtmann and Ohio State will try and use that optimism to its advantage in the final game of the regular season against No. 21 Wisconsin on Sunday.
Ohio State (18-11, 8-10 Big Ten)
G — C.J. Jackson — Senior, 11.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.4 apg
G — Luther Muhammad — Freshman, 8.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.9 apg
G — Keyshawn Woods — Redshirt senior, 7.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg
F — Andre Wesson — Junior, 8.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.8 apg
F — Jaedon LeDee — Freshman, 3.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 0.2 apg
No. 21 Wisconsin (21-9 , 13-6 Big Ten)
G — D’Mitrik Trice —Redshirt sophomore, 12.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.6 apg
G — Brad Davidson — Sophomore, 10.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.9 apg
G — Khalil Iverson — Senior, 5.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.9 apg
F — Ethan Happ — Senior, 17.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.6 apg
F — Nate Reuvers— Sophomore, 8.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.9 apg
For three members of the Ohio State roster, this game against Wisconsin is more than just any regular season game. For guards C.J. Jackson, Joey Lane and Keyshawn Woods, it’s senior day, playing their final games at the Schottenstein Center.
Jackson, a former transfer who came to Ohio State prior to the start of the 2016-17 season from Eastern Florida State, said it will be a surreal moment for him Sunday after all of the things that have happened in his Ohio State career.
“Just like all the stuff we’ve been through since I have gotten here: the coaching changes, players leaving and things like that,” Jackson said. “Things kind of happen so fast and now it’s come down to one game left here at the Schott. It’s pretty special.”
Jackson said Holtmann told the team he wants to send the seniors out the right way. Lane agreed, feeling the pressure of what a win against the Badgers would mean ahead of the NCAA Tournament.
But Wesson will continue to be sidelined, with the head coach announcing the sophomore forward will miss his third-straight game serving a suspension for a violation of athletic department rules.
Holtmann said this stretch has been difficult because Ohio State has not been able to change its offensive identity in such a short amount of time.
On top of that, with the depleted roster, many players on Ohio State’s roster are feeling fatigued. The head coach said junor forward Andre Wesson has been “worn down” while sophomore forward Kyle Young is continuing to play through a right leg strain that has affected his fitness level and practice abilities, along with a new ankle injury.
Jackson said, heading into his senior day, that he is not 100 percent either.
“Physically, I would say I am pretty beat, but it’s time for us to go kind of make this season what we planned it to be,” Jackson said.
Ohio State will face a Wisconsin team that runs its offense through the paint much like the Buckeyes strived to do with Wesson.
Wisconsin senior forward Ethan Happ averages a double-double — scoring 17.9 points and recording 10.2 rebounds per game — and will likely prove to be a mismatch down low for the Buckeyes.
“[Happ] has been there for what seems like 10 years now,” Holtmann said. “He’s had a phenomenal career.”
But Ohio State still has goals in mind, and are goals that Jackson wants to achieve during his final game at the Schottenstein Center.
“We are not finished,” Jackson said. “It’s a great opportunity for us Sunday to go out the right way, winning our last home game against a really good team.”
Ohio State will take on No. 21 Wisconsin at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Schottenstein Center.