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Men’s Basketball: Ohio State shows fast and loose defense in Big Ten tournament

Ohio State freshman guard Duane Washington Jr. (4) runs for a loose ball in the first half of the game against Indiana at the Big Ten tournament in Chicago on Mar. 14. Ohio State won 79-74. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

CHICAGO — Ohio State was never a team that excelled in forcing turnovers. The Buckeyes forced an average of 12.4 turnovers per game heading into the Big Ten tournament, No. 8 in the Big Ten.

But in its 79-75 victory against Indiana, Ohio State was different.

The Buckeyes forced 17 turnovers, 12 of which were steals, the most steals they have recorded in a game this season and only the second time they have recorded double-digit steals on the year.

With that success in forcing turnovers, Ohio State took advantage, recording 24 points off of turnovers, 17 of which came in the first half, with 15 fast-break points.

Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said these numbers came from his team just playing actively and with energy. But it was with an energy he had not seen this season.

“We were better at converting in transition in this game than we have been all year,” Holtmann said. “We have been catastrophic in transition, but we were really good today. Better decisions, more decisive and a lot of that was off of our defense.”

That’s the Holtmann philosophy: to point the success of the fast-break offense to the defense. This mantra has been ingrained in the minds of the players on the bench and the coaches on his staff. It’s the mentality that brought Ohio State its first win since Feb. 26 and an opportunity at a third round date with Michigan State.

As opposed to other games, Holtmann said he wanted to see his team be “free and loose” when taking on the Hoosiers. The head coach mentioned that this may have affected the Buckeyes’ shot selection in the first half, but he would rather have offensive struggles than a tight team on the floor.

These offensive struggles were familiar to this Ohio State team. In the three-game absence of sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson, who was serving a suspension for a violation of athletic department rules, the Buckeyes shot 32.6 percent from the floor.

And even with Wesson on the floor, the struggles continued, making 3-of-14 as a team to start the game.

Even with the rough start, Holtmann was still courtside, arms folded in front of him, nodding approvingly early in the first half. That was not the number he was focused on.

In that same stretch, Indiana had made two of its first 15 attempts from the field. And Ohio State held a 13-9 lead.

Ohio State was more focused on limiting opportunities for the Hoosiers than creating opportunities for itself, something Holtmann and the Buckeyes have tried to make gospel.

“Our coach always say ‘lock in on defense, pay attention to defensive detail and the scouting report and let the offense take care of itself,’” freshman guard Luther Muhammad said.

“They know shots might not fall,” Ohio State sophomore guard Musa Jallow said. “But if we are playing defense, it doesn’t matter.”

The shots eventually came for Ohio State. Coming into a first-half possession shooting 21.4 percent from the field, Muhammad recorded a steal, passing it up the court to freshman guard Duane Washington for an easy layup.

The Buckeyes proceeded to make five of their next seven attempts, only one of which was a 3.

Near the end of the first half, sophomore forward Kyle Young connected on a second-chance hook shot in the paint, the chance coming off an Indiana turnover. The Buckeyes proceeded to make seven of their next nine.

Young saw how effective fast-break baskets and scores off turnovers can be, especially for a team that had not relied on them before this season.

“Converting the fast break points were huge tonight because I think in a couple previous of our games, we really didn’t have that much,” Young said. “We could notice that in the outcome.”

Despite being the top scoring team in the Big Ten, averaging 79.7 points per game and shooting 48.9 percent from the field, Michigan State does have an Achilles heel: turnovers.

Projected Starters

Ohio State (19-13, 9-12 Big Ten)

G — C.J. Jackson — Senior, 13.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.5 apg

G — Luther Muhammad — Freshman, 9.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg

G — Musa Jallow — Sophomore, 2.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.3 apg

F — Andre Wesson — Junior, 9.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.5 apg

F — Kaleb Wesson — Sophomore, 14.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.8 apg

No. 6 Michigan State (25-6 ,16-4 Big Ten)

G — Cassius Winston — Junior, 19.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 7.6 apg

G — Matt McQuaid — Senior, 9.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 apg

F — Aaron Henry — Freshman, 5.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.4 apg

F — Kenny Goins — Redshirt senior, 8.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.2 apg

F — Xavier TIllman — Sophomore, 9.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.7 apg

The Spartans have the second-worst turnover margin in the conference and average 13 per game.

In their first two games against the Spartans, turnovers were something the Buckeyes could not exploit.

In Michigan State’s 86-77 win against Ohio State on Jan. 5, the Spartans recorded 12 turnovers and the Buckeyes recorded seven steals. But Ohio State recorded only 12 points off those turnovers with three fast-break points.

In Michigan State’s 62-44 win against Ohio State on Feb. 17, the Spartans had 10 turnovers, seven of which came from Ohio State steals. But the Buckeyes had five points off turnovers and nine fast-break points.

Holtmann said he knows who Michigan State is: an elite team capable of being a national title contender.

But with the game Ohio State played against Indiana and the strategy Holtmann had against the Hoosiers, a similar strategy could prove impactful in the Buckeyes’ third game against Michigan State

“When it’s postseason tournament play, it’s hard to get easy baskets,” Jallow said. “Being able to steal as many of those as you can, it makes everything a lot easier.”

Ohio State will take on No. 6 Michigan State in the third round of the Big Ten tournament Friday at 12:30 p.m.

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