Nicknames for this team just don’t do them justice. But as long as they keep finding a way to win ugly…Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes edge closer to a season of remarkable accomplishment – notwithstanding a few warts.
Columbus – Twenty-three games into the season, it’s time we came up with a nickname for an Ohio State basketball team that could beat the pants off any of those reality shows on prime time television – the ones that show flawed characters putting themselves into situations that make one squirm.
The team has won enough with eight games remaining in the regular season to be in the conversation for the NCAA tournament, and that alone merits something catchy to be printed on the front of a t-shirt.
But picking a name for these Buckeyes is a lot like the science a husband and wife go through before choosing one for their first-born.
How about Team Turnover?
That would be fitting to a point, but is slighting a team that is 16-7 overall and 6-6 in the rough, tough Big Ten.
How about Cardiac Kids?
Don’t dare go there. That was taken four decades ago by Brian Sipe and the Cleveland Browns.
We’re getting close with Heart Stoppers.
‘But let’s settle in with ‘Wonder Warts’, and here’s why:
These guys have so many deficiencies such as committing enough turnovers each game to fill a grocery bag, Kaleb Wesson’s recurring foul trouble, a lack of depth, a lack of height and all that youth with just two seniors on the roster.
Ohio State followed its script by building several leads and losing them just as quickly with empty possessions loaded with turnovers and sketchy shot selection against Indiana on Sunday.
And, of course, Kaleb Wesson got into foul trouble.
The Buckeyes’ splattered canvas looked like 5-year-olds had gone wild with finger paint, but they got a driving dunk from Andre Wesson with 20.8 seconds left and a free throw from Luther Muhammad with 8.8 seconds left to defeat Indiana 55-52 at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
It was the third victory in four games for Ohio State (16-7, 6-6) and the eighth loss in nine for Indiana (13-11, 4-9).
In a way, it might turn out to be something of an elimination game if the NCAA tournament committee decides to have eight Big Ten teams in the field. Indiana does have eye-catching wins against Marquette, Louisville and Michigan State.
No one could exhale until Devonte Green missed a long, off-balance three-pointer with hands in his face with 1.6 seconds remaining.
“We were fortunate that three by Romeo (Langford) kind of rimmed out, but our guys made plays,’’ Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said of a shot with 12 seconds remaining. “They really stayed poise in a tough environment. Players won this deal.’’
Holtmann later said, “A lot of guys made contributions. We had so many different guys.’’
Had they lost, the Buckeyes might have sat there on NCAA tournament selection Sunday thinking this game was a torpedo to the port side that sent them to the NIT or, worse yet, to the College Insider Tournament. There are games remaining against heavyweights Michigan State, Maryland, Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin.
It shouldn’t have been such a tense ending.
The Buckeyes led 47-38 with 6:25 left on a three-pointer by Andre Wesson against an Indiana team that basically shoots mid-range jumpers in struggling for offensive rhythm.
Second-year coach Archie Miller has called his team “soft and scared.’’ There has been turmoil with Green having been suspended for three games.
Then something strange happened. The Hoosiers, who ranked 13th in the Big Ten in three-pointers made and 11th in three-point shooting percentage before tip-off, nailed four treys just like that.
At the other end, Ohio State gift-wrapped the comeback when Andre Wesson and Muhammad were called for traveling and Musa Jallow got trapped underneath the basket and put up an air ball trying to invent a shot.
The last of the bobbles, a turnover by C.J. Jackson after Kaleb Wesson blew a lay-up, paved the way for Green to hit a three for a 52-49 lead with 1:45 left.
The Buckeyes probably won’t come up with a good wart remover anytime soon, but to their credit they don’t run away from their messes, either.
“I‘ve said all along that even when people were kind of writing us off during that stretch that I like this group,’’ Holtmann said of the team going 1-6 in January. “I like the fact they stay with it and stay poised. They come to work and they care about winning, and that’s a sign of great kids.’’
And sometimes they are really lucky kids.
With 1:13 left, Jackson hit an awkward-looking one-handed push shot for a trey to tie it.
The Buckeyes defense came up big after that.
With 46.6 seconds left, the Hoosiers (13-11, 4-9) had to call timeout because they couldn’t inbound the ball. When play resumed, Jallow got a deflection on an entry pass to Langford to give Ohio State possession.
After a timeout with 34.8 seconds left, Andre Wesson had a driving dunk off a give-and-go with Jackson for a 54-52 lead with 20.8 seconds left.
Langford missed a three-pointer and Muhammad was fouled after snagging the rebound with 8.8 seconds left. He made the first of two free throws for a three-point lead.
The Hoosiers had one last chance and Green missed a long, off-balance trey with hands in his face from the right side.
So the Wonder Warts struck once again despite having 15 turnovers, giving up 21 points off those turnovers and yielding 30 points in the paint.
They won despite franchise player Kaleb Wesson going for only 10 points and four rebounds. They won despite getting out-rebounded 29-25.
Ohio State stayed interesting because, yet again, someone stepped up big-time. This time it was Andre Wesson with 15 points, four rebounds and two steals. He played the final 15-plus minutes with three fouls.
“Our team has embraced the idea of coming in and being the best at what they can do, and we have to keep doing that as a group,’’ Holtmann said.