The Buckeyes again showed why they have both feet firmly planted in pails of hardened cement as a middle of the pack team, a work in progress for better days in the future.
The Buckeyes again showed why they have both feet firmly planted in pails of hardened cement as a middle of the pack team in the conference going nose to nose against Maryland.
You didn’t really think they were going to defeat the 24th-ranked Terps even had C.J. Jackson laced up his sneakers and started the game, did you?
Jackson, a senior guard and captain, was ruled out less than an hour before tip-off because of a left shoulder injury he came down with in a victory over Northwestern on Wednesday. He’s listed as day to day.
Maryland got 14 points and 10 rebounds from future NBA draft pick Bruno Fernando and 19 from point guard Anthony Cowan in a 72-62 victory before a full house in College Park, Maryland.
The Terps (21-7, 12-5) are closing in on one of the four double byes for the conference tournament.
It was more of the same from an Ohio State (17-10, 7-9) team that hasn’t come close to winning against the elite of the conference, namely Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa and Maryland.
One player, though, still had to have a lot of adrenaline pumping through his circulatory system while staring out a porthole at the clouds, and that was freshman swingman Justin Ahrens of Versailles.
Ahrens got his first college start, and made the most of it by hitting three long treys and getting four rebounds, two steals and one blocked shot.
He was feeling it so much that he even dared put one finger to his lips to the crowd going into a timeout after the third three-pointer.
Ahrens did have two turnovers and made a critical error fouling guard Serrell Smith behind the three-point line with 5:06 left.
No defender was within 10 feet of Smith while he spotted up for the shot, and Ahrens ran at him all the way from the free throw lane trying to make another play.
At that point, Ohio State had chopped the deficit to 57-55 from 14 points after a three-pointer by Ahrens. Smith swished all three throws, and that was that.
Yet Ahrens definitely showed why coach Chris Holtmann valued his signature so much on a national letter of intent.
Here’s a question: Did he look like another Jon Diebler or what? Those threes were contested and way out there, and they left his hands with confidence and authority.
Life with the Buckeyes might never be the same for Ahrens. He started the second half of a victory over Northwestern on Wednesday because Holtmann got excited about his work ethic in practice and rabid enthusiasm on the bench.
Ahrens responded with a slick baseline drive and reverse lay-up and resounding dunk.
Yesterday, he simply had to have carved out a higher spot in the rotation.
The public also got a chance to see what Ohio State will look like when Jackson and graduate student Keyshawn Woods are gone for 2019-20.
Next season, prized five-star recruit D.J. Carton and Florida State transfer C.J. Walker will take turns running the show and not the conglomeration coach Chris Holtmann had to cobble together yesterday.
Jackson has had the ball in his hands more than 50 percent of the time, and his errors and hesitancy have gone a long way in making this team so inconsistent.
Most of his numbers are solid to excellent. He’s averaging 2.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 40.3 percent shooting from three-point range.
But his absence also took an average of 2 ½ turnovers off the floor.
The team had seven turnovers against the Terps – it came in averaging more than 14 – but just as important the basketball moved a lot faster in creating a lot more rhythm.
Woods, who has been uncertain and sometimes even timid with the ball in his hands this season, looked a lot better.
Holtmann was asked after the Northwestern game how maddening it has been living with Jackson’s looseness with the basketball but also high productivity.
“I’ve coached him two years now and we’ve had a bit of these moments together,’’ he said of Jackson’s inconsistency. I’ve kind of looked at our bench and said, ‘What are we doing?’ I just have to catch myself because that’s kind of who he is. We want to eliminate some of those moments. It’s frustrating, but he can be a guy who can change a game because of his ability. He competes. He plays exceptionally hard.’’
There are four regular-season games remaining and it’s too late for Jackson to start erasing some of his mistakes and looking like Scoonie Penn. He is what he is.
Holtmann is committed to finishing this with Jackson playing an extensive role, and you can’t blame him for thinking that with a player who was instrumental in the team winning 25 games and finishing runner-up in the Big Ten last season.
This isn’t to finger Jackson for any or all of the team’s shortcomings. He is a shooting guard by trade and is taking one for the team by working the point. He also is positive and has great character.
Other than going into a funk for a four-minute stretch in the second half, Fernando, Smith & Co. pretty much took away drives to the basket and 6-10 Kaleb Wesson posting up, and that meant firing away from mid-range and the perimeter.
Wesson totaled seven points in failing to reach double figures for only the seventh time this season. He was 3-for-12 shooting and was never a factor underneath the basket with seven rebounds.
Here’s is another rotten statistic: Take Ahrens’ work away and the Buckeyes were 8-for-28 from three-point range.
Ohio State also ran what amounted to be a four-man offense when freshman Luther Muhammad was in the lineup. He was 1-for-8 shooting and his recent struggles have him at 5-for-37.
This young man has hit the freshman wall hard, but he will survive this because no one has more confidence in Muhammad than himself.
The quest to win one game against a Big Ten team in Quadrant 1 of the NCAA’s first-year NET continues Tuesday against Iowa at The Schott.