Wearing glasses, Chris Holtman, who wore a polo shirt, began punching his fists on the table in front of him to emphasize every word that came out of his mouth.
“The thing about this league now is that if you go out of growth and improvement every day, you are being beaten,” Holtman said. “I feel like I’m talking to my team here, so I apologize for the enthusiasm.”
He had every reason to feel excited inside the State Farm Center on a Saturday afternoon. The Ohio State team had just traveled to Champaign, Illinois, and handed over the pre-season pick to capture the Big Ten Championship. Loss of 87-81 in the home court. The victory extended Buckeyes’ winning streak to three matches after previously defeating Rutgers on the Road and Northwestern at home, tying them with Illini in fourth place in the convention and improving their record to 11-3 in the season.
This was, effectively, the latest example of a process he talks so much about to pay off in front of him. He’s seen his players buy and accept his role, he remains committed to the daily improvement he preaches, and now he’s seeing the deep results on the court that he desired in what Seth Towns thought was his most physical game. Ohio State played all season.
After two words in the sentence after he apologized, the fist started hitting the table again. Holtman, who has definitely delivered that message to his players – including backgammon strikes – dozens of times over the past few months, has been unable to help himself.
“But if you get out of it, you’ll be defeated.” Holtman said, “You’re losing.” So the challenge is to commit every day to this work in progress, because that’s what we are. This is who we are, and this is what most teams represent, but this is definitely what we are with some new pieces and young guys taking on new roles. We have to be very committed to that because once you walk away from it, in this league you will be defeated and people will say, “Why? How are they being beaten by this team? Well, we have distracted our eyes from getting better, in some cases.
“This is our challenge is to keep doing it, and I think if our group has this mindset, it will give us our chance to be better – or be better, at least.”
Finally, the comfort of the grip. I made a point.
Among those who have played new roles this season and who are becoming more acclimatized to them as the season progresses, second-year striker EJ Liddell, a 6-foot-7-foot forward striker, twice in his career has confronted his team Eleni and suddenly appeared both times. Like the first player of Team All-Big Ten. He scored his first double in a win against them 10 and a half months ago, and set a new career high of 26 points in his first road showdown with Illinois on Saturday.
In the past two months, Liddell – who went from averaging 16.6 minutes per game last season to 27 minutes per game this season – has dealt with the difficulties of appearing alongside Duan Washington Jr. at the top of the opposing teams’ polling reports. On Wednesday, he missed all six shots from the field against the Northwestern side that surrounded him and specifically aimed to make things difficult for him. After this, Holtman had to speak to his sophomore year to help him understand how some of these errors affected the rest of his performance.
Clearly, Liddell will listen and learn. His 26 points were the most from anyone in either team, and he added four three-pointers with seven rebounds as well. He was also part of Buckeyes’ cadre who had the mission of containing the 7-foot-tall Kofi Cockburn Center.
“It’s my local school,” Liddell said, “but that’s not what motivated me today.” “It was my teammates. I felt I needed to do more to help us win today. I didn’t have the best match against Northwestern, which is why they stayed most of the time. But today I felt like I did everything I could for my teammates. Tonight was just recording, and that’s how we won. ”
No one else in Ohio scored more than 11 points, even though all 10 of the men brought to court contributed in beneficial ways – which became somewhat of a topic.
Justin Arens made four fouls before he saw the ball pass through the net, but during a span of seven minutes midway through the second half, he made three triples to keep Illinois in trouble. Holtman says he has a saying – “never hesitate” – that Arens stuck to when he paused in the transition for his final three of the day.
“I don’t know we’re going to get a better look at Justin with 3 wide open,” Holtman said. “Really proud of him for escalating it.”
Seth Towns achieved his season high of 11 points in 15 minutes, making him a pair of 3s and later noticing that he feels much better. Judge Swing, who played a point forward due to the continued absence of injured CJ Walker and Jimmy Sotos, made five turns for the team, but also scored nine points, seven boards, four assists, two robberies and had a defensive stint on Ayo Dosunmu. Washington drained all four free throw attempts in the last 23 seconds when Ohio State couldn’t stand a foul. Moussa Gallo played only six minutes but fired into the triple corner less than two minutes before the end of the match after Arens’s foul.
Zed Key, a freshman who came as a 3-star recruiter, got Cockburn to do it all. The energetic big player always finished above the giant Cockburn on the post and made an offensive foul, scoring eight points and four boards. He and Kyle Young summed up Holtman’s stated strategy of having Cockburn “score the ball in the crowd and see the corpses as often as possible.” Meechie Johnson, who started training just over a week ago, scored a game-high plus 17 in his second college match ever.
“I think what he’s saying about our guys right now at this point is that they’ve really embraced what every youngster can bring to the team,” Holtman said. “They were able to get in and play effectively.”
Townes added, “We’ve made a lot of progress as a team in terms of chemistry and so forth. You see Meechie really making huge contributions to the team, improving my health and many people taking shape. I think chemistry is probably the most important thing. We find each other where we like our sites, and you see Lots of people on the team come to life because of it. ”
Over the past seven days, Ohio has scored three consecutive wins that would push this group higher than its current ranking of 21 in the Associated Press’s Top 25 poll. They are starting to turn some heads.
Buckeyes’ challenge now is to make sure they don’t turn their heads away from what got them to this point.
“We hope to keep going,” Holtman said. “This is a fun group to practice because they have that mindset so far.”