Adam Jardy The Columbus Dispatch
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – There are clearly a few causes for concern as Ohio State heads into its final two games of the Big Ten season. But after having taken a second straight loss, this one a 74-63 defeat to No. 22 Michigan on Sunday afternoon at the Crisler Center, the No. 8 Buckeyes weren’t hitting the panic button just yet.
They might have an idea where it’s located, though. A one-game lead atop the Big Ten standings has vanished in four days, and now the Buckeyes trail Michigan State by a game. At Penn State on Thursday night, the Buckeyes were never really in the game and trailed by as many as a season-high 30 points in what would be a 23-point loss. Today, Michigan led for the final 27:15 and kept any comeback attempt at bay.
In the hallway leading to the court, senior Jae’Sean Tate and junior Keita Bates-Diop hit on a similar refrain as they broke down the loss.
“Two totally different games, but the concepts are the same: we’ve got to be more locked in and focused on the details,” Bates-Diop said.
“Of course, losing up here to them, it hurts, but we’ve still got two more Big Ten games to play,” Tate said. “We’ve just got to learn from it. Like I said after Penn State, we can either learn from it or it’s going to keep happening and tonight it did. They came out more physical, they made the right plays and they got the win. It’s the same thing: we’ve got to learn from this one and learn from Penn State because Rutgers is a better defensive team than both of these guys.”
Coach Chris Holtmann was asked if he’s leaning more toward the notion that teams lose games all the time or the notion that this team has concerning issues that need fixed. He put himself squarely in the middle of the two viewpoints.
“The reality is that if you go through a power conference unscathed, then you’ve got one heck of a team,” he said. “And by unscathed, I mean a loss or two. Having said that, we have to correct some things and hopefully improve in some areas because Rutgers is very physical and one of the best defensive teams in the country. We certainly have to make some strides moving forward with a very quick turnaround. I think we did some good things today. Michigan just played better today.”
Tate, too, was asked if fans should start to freak out about a two-game losing streak at this point of the season.
“I don’t think there’s any need to freak out,” he said. “We’re 13-3 in the Big Ten. That’s still saying something and we’ve still got two more ahead. We’re still going to be able to make the tournament and get into the Big Ten tournament hopefully striding. I just think that we haven’t been the team that’s been hungrier. We could blame it on thinking we had a two-game lead in the Big Ten, but I feel like teams have come out and had us on our heels where in the past when we have won we’ve been the aggressors. We’ve got to get back to that.”
For a second straight game, Bates-Diop had to work to get open, work to get shots and work to make any sort of meaningful impact. It showed, as he finished with 17 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Against Penn State, he had 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
Ohio State is now 14-2 when Bates-Diop shoots at least 50 percent from the field and 8-5 when he doesn’t.
“If that’s the way the game is going to be allowed to be played, which clearly it is, then he’s got to do a better job of adjusting to that and playing through that physicality,” Holtmann said. “I’m not worried about him. Perhaps there’s some fatigue. A couple missed free throws in there. He’s played a lot of minutes for us and carried a really heavy load, but everybody has this time of year. I’m sure he’ll respond the right way.”
The residual effect of Bates-Diop not scoring like he has been all season is increased pressure on what was accurately perceived to be the weak point on the roster when the season began: point guard. Starter C.J. Jackson had three points and three turnovers in 25 minutes and backup Andrew Dakich missed all three of his attempts and had one turnover in 22 minutes.
Neither had an assist.
“The offensive pace wasn’t what it needed to be and because of that the defender is allowed to pressure our point guards and turn their back and it puts pressure on Keita to make a good move when there’s two defenders on him,” Tate said. “We’ve got to get our offensive pace back and be more connected.”
Bates-Diop said both he and Tate can help by shouldering some of the ball handling duties, but Holtmann downplayed the notion of Bates-Diop become a primary ball-handler by saying that’s an area where he still needs to improve.
It was too much for Tate to overcome alone, although he tried. With a Big Ten-season high 20 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, Tate was everywhere for the Buckeyes.
“I thought he did the best job of playing through their physicality and being a guy who can play through how the game is being called right now,” Holtmann said. “He was able to get to some of his spots and play with strength and force and hopefully we can just get a few more guys (doing that). It’s what he does anyways but I was really proud of him. Now we’ve got to see, with a quick turnaround, can he come back with that kind of effort and help lead our guys on Tuesday?”
Two runs during second half that stuck out to me:
*Andre Wesson buried a three to pull the Buckeyes within 42-39 with 13:34, but as the Ohio State offense heated up the defense couldn’t follow suit. Including that basket, the teams combined to score at least one point on eight straight possessions and 13 of the next 14. So while the Buckeyes scored on eight of nine possessions, they still trailed by four at 55-51 with 10:58 to play.
*When Ohio State got to 51 points, it came on a Bates-Diop three-pointer. The Buckeyes did not connect on another field goal until 2:52 remained, and that Bates-Diop layup made it a 65-55 Michigan lead. That’s a stretch of 8:06 without a made field goal.
“There were some missed shots there, but we’ve got to continue to play through physicality,” Holtmann said. “The guy that really does the best job of that is Jae’Sean right now and we’ve got to have more guys play through that and make smart, sound plays. We’ve got to move the ball better, too.”
Holtmann adjusted his rotation and seemingly shuffled his depth chart as well after the Penn State game. When Kaleb Wesson came out for the first time early in the game, freshman Kyle Young was his replacement and not sophomore Micah Potter.
After playing 21 effective minutes against Michigan earlier this season, Young played 22 minutes today and finished 1 of 5 from the floor and had five rebounds, three fouls, one block and one steal. Potter was a healthy lineup scratch, Holtmann confirmed.
“Kyle is just playing well,” the coach said.
“I think he was great,” Tate said. “He gave us great energy. Throwing in a young guy like that who hasn’t really had that many minutes during the season, to come in there and make an impact on rebounding and the defensive end, I think he did a great job. We’ve got to get him out there more and get him more comfortable. He had a couple looks that were in and out and that’s going to come with time. He’s young, and he’ll be a great player.”
After a three-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules, Kam Williams has now come off the bench in both of these Ohio State losses. He had two points on 1-of-4 shooting in 16 minutes against Penn State and five points on 2-of-5 shooting today against Michigan.
“This was his second game back,” Holtmann said. “I don’t know, a guy that sits out three games is probably a little rusty but hopefully he’ll have time to get back and get into the flow of things.”
“It’s a bumpy road to the road to the Final Four.” – Dan Dakich, to me as he was leaving the arena