On the road in the toughest conference in the nation is a hard place to mend wounds for a college basketball team, but it’s exactly what Ohio State has to do if it wants to stop the bleeding.
The sheen of three early season top 10 wins has quickly dulled as the Buckeyes have dropped three straight and are starting to look more like a bottom 25 team than an elite one.
But head coach Chris Holtmann and the No. 11 Buckeyes (11-4, 1-3 Big Ten) have the chance to stop that narrative in its tracks and get the train rolling back in its direction with a win against Indiana (12-3, 2-2) Saturday.
“There’s no question that when you go through a stretch like this with young people, I’m sure they’re feeling it. I think they are,” Holtmann said. “The reality is, there’s no other way to get to feeling better than practicing good basketball and playing good basketball, and that’s what we have to get to.”
Devoid of the high-caliber wins, the Hoosiers mirror Ohio State with mutual stumbles.
Both Indiana and the Buckeyes have taken conference lumps from Maryland and Wisconsin in the past month or so, though the Hoosiers took theirs a little harder.
While Ohio State-Wisconsin came down to the wire this past Friday, the Badgers turned their matchup with Indiana into a 20-point blowout at home.
Indiana’s 16-point demolition to the two-loss Terrapins was its second defeat in its past three games — proof that the Buckeyes aren’t the only team facing mid-season woes at the start of its Big Ten slate.
“The reality is we’ve played some good teams here, and they’re trying to win too. We’ve not played our best, but other teams have performed better,” Holtmann said. “Sometimes that happens — it’s a long season.”
Maryland’s size was effective in defending Ohio State junior forward Kaleb Wesson, who missed his second-most shots of the season Tuesday on 5-of-13 shooting.
Wesson struggled to contend with the length of 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Jalen Smith and 7-foot-2 freshman center Chol Marial, and it’s a defensive recipe the Hoosiers will look to replicate with their own tandem of big men.
“They’re one of the bigger teams — probably the biggest team — that we play in college basketball right now with their length,” Holtmann said. “Particularly across the front line.”
Indiana freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis will be the most highly touted recruit on the floor Saturday, and 2019’s No. 26 prospect has the size, at 6-foot-9, 245 pounds, to bang with Wesson down low.
Jackson-Davis has lived up to his billing, leading Indiana with 15.2 points per game and 8.3 rebounds. He’s shooting 64 percent from the field and has five 20-point games to Wesson’s two.
Another big body the Hoosiers have at their disposal is forward Joey Brunk, a homegrown redshirt junior standing at 6-foot-11, 230 pounds.
Maryland’s Smith was given a technical foul for flopping Tuesday, and Holtmann said he and his star forward aren’t foreseeing any change in strategy from other opponents.
Wesson hasn’t been the catalyst for recent Buckeye troubles, though.
Sophomore guard Duane Washington was a knock-down shooter through the first nine games for the Buckeyes, hitting 60 percent of his 20 3-point attempts in big wins against Villanova, North Carolina and Penn State.
Since returning from a rib injury that kept him out of two games, Washington has looked like a different player, having made just 7-of-25 3s and shooting 28.9 percent overall during the Buckeyes’ losing streak.
“I don’t think he’d want the injury to be an excuse in any way,” Holtmann said. “Maybe he got out of rhythm a little bit. I think that’s possible. He’s got to get back to a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him get back to a rhythm.”
Ohio State will also likely be without junior forward Kyle Young, the Buckeyes’ high-energy glue guy, for another game as he recovers from an appendectomy. Holtmann said Young has been able to do more in practice, but will still be a game-time decision Saturday.
“It’s not like he’s the answer to all of our offensive issues –– we understand that –– but he does help,” Holtmann said.
The Buckeyes will either get rolling or continue getting rolled at noon Saturday in Bloomington, Indiana, where they tip off against the Hoosiers.