(photo courtesy of Columbus Dispatch)

The 17th ranked Buckeyes men’s basketball team went into yesterday’s game (Jan. 30th) in Columbus against the Hoosiers of Indiana with a sour taste from a loss in the previous game against Penn State – needing to right those wrongs that produced the unexpected collapse.

The Ohio State University got off to ‘a-bit’ of a slow start Tuesday in its first game since that buzzer-beater loss to the Litany Lions. However, unlike in past games where it could turn on the “burners” at that right moment, it allowed Penn State to rack up plenty of points. When the Buckeyes mounted their comeback in the last minutes of the game, it was simply too late.

That couldn’t happen again…. Chris Holtmann knew it, as well as did his players.

The Buckeyes exploded in the first half, outscoring Indiana 38-23 as they sailed to a 71-56 victory. The Buckeyes top player, redshirt junior Keita Bates-Diop, struggled and scored just six points, turning the ball over three times in the half. He would finish the game with a double-double, matching points and rebounds at 13.

For once, however, it seemed he was not the go-to guy for production; getting off to a slow start, so his teammates stepped up and carried the weight – especially Jae’Sean Tate who scored 16 points for the Buckeyes in the final box-score, Kaleb Wesson would add 14, and CJ Jackson chimed in with 10.

Indiana head coach Archie Miller said that even without the early production from Bates-Diop, his supporting cast did what it needed to do to push the Buckeyes off to that fast start.

“I think their other guys are pretty underappreciated in terms of how they affect the game,” Miller said. “Their guards can really shoot it. They really keep the floor spaced. I think [Ohio State senior forward Jae’Sean] Tate’s probably one of the best jack-of-all-trade guys you can play against.”

Earlier in the year, Tate and Bates-Diop were frequently mentioned by Holtmann as the two players who would have to produce for the team to have success. Tate did exactly that in this game, leading the Buckeyes in the games scoring as I previously mentioned with 16. Bates-Diop would lead the team in the game’s rebounding with 13.

However, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann cited the leadership Tate demonstrated after Ohio State’s loss to Penn State as one of the defining factors in his team’s win Tuesday.

Tate said after Ohio State’s loss to Penn State that the team had been fortunate, escaping with wins despite getting off to slow starts and finally, their luck ran out. That type of self-awareness, to be able to identify the problem before the coach brings it up, is why Holtmann believes Tate has become one of the driving forces behind his team’s success.

“Certainly, guys are going to listen if I say something, but they’re really going to pay attention when JT says it because he’s earned the right to grab their attention,” Holtmann said. “You really want to be a player-led team as much as possible. Particularly this time of year. I think if you’re not, if you’re not a player-led team, you could have issues.”

Around this time of year, it can be difficult to correct mistakes that become a trend. Ohio State seemingly made a habit of falling behind to teams and relying on its ability to come back late to win.

But they adjusted. The Buckeyes did not come out of the gate sluggish against Indiana. They entered the game on a fiery mission – straight from the opening buzzer – making seven of their first eight tries from 2-point range.

“I think our guys recognize that if we don’t, it’s going to be another long night,” Holtmann said. “You don’t necessarily win or lose the game in the first four minutes, but there is a tone that could be set that you hope that your guys recognize is really important. And they did. I was pleased with them.”

Following the fresh wound of a loss – it certainly would have been an easy vision, or assumption that the Buckeyes would have started out slow in this game against the Hoosiers. That is what last season’s team would have done. Instead of remembering the loss it suffered to Penn State, the Buckeyes seemed to embrace it and turned it into a positive tool in-order-to avoid a repeat.

“You see it all the time where teams take one loss and it becomes another loss and another loss,” Tate said. “It really went back to what it was before when we got on our stretch at the beginning. We had to remind ourselves to play with that chip and play with that energy and effort at the beginning of the games.”

The loss to Penn State could have become an omen of more losses stemming from slow starts and devastating endings, all of which could be avoided if the team jumps out of the gate with that nicely displayed ‘chip-on-their shoulder’ they showed Tuesday.

Last season’s team seemed to allow losses to not bother them. The players ate a loss so many times the taste became an ugly familiarity. The current one-league loss for this team doesn’t taste well to this group – and that is a good thing!

“Just having that sour taste in their mouth against Penn State,” Tate said, “I think they’ve done a great job of answering the call, making sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The Final Summation:

This isn’t a huge surprise. The Buckeyes are a better team than the Hoosiers…. But they were a better team than the Nittany Lions as well, so we know the story … Instead of falling behind, as they have done so often, only then having to rely on pure talent and drive to pull them from the depths of the loss possibilities, they stormed on this one from the beginning – indeed a nice pattern to build on and follow from here out. I enjoyed this game on two levels – 1) They won & 2) They knew they were a better team and showed that they believed it. This was a nice victory.

Up Next:

The Illini of Illinois will come to Columbus on the 4th of February, Sunday for a 12:00 match up. Look at your local listings for the game. And though the Illini are 12-11 overall and 2-8 within the league – DO NOT take anything for granted.