The secret to Ohio State’s stunning turnaround

Jubilation enveloped Ohio State Head Coach Chris Holtmann after his No. 14 ranked team shocked No. 3 Purdue on their home court. Behind a double-double from junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes snapped Purdue’s 19 game winning streak with a 64-63 upset victory. This upset vaulted OSU into a tie for first place in the Big Ten with Purdue.

Not many pundits would have predicted that at this point in the season that the Buckeyes would have the top seed in the Big Ten tournament in their sights. Holtmann, in his first season as Head Coach of the Buckeyes, has completely altered the culture of the locker room. Let’s examine how he did it.

Comeback Kids

Ohio State has played with fire throughout Big Ten Conference play, winning four games where they have trailed by double digits. Ohio State faced a 14 point deficit with 10:17 remaining in the second half against Purdue. In the game prior versus Illinois, Holtmann’s squad dug themselves into a 15 point hole at the 10:51 mark in the first half.

Stagnant and careless ball movement tends to be the primary culprit of these slow starts. In Ohio State’s 75-67 win over Illinois, the Buckeyes committed a total of 15 turnovers with junior point guard C.J. Jackson and Bates-Diop accounting for 10 of them. In their upset over Purdue, OSU committed seven turnovers in the first half as they struggled to find their footing early.

Holtmann deserves credit for keeping his team engaged and optimistic, even when they face early or late deficits. Instead, through creative in-game adjustments, such as riding a small line-up late in the second half against Purdue, have allowed OSU to catch opponent off guard and get back into games.

Plethora of Play-makers

Jae’Sean Tate celebrates a big play (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images North America).

Ohio State’s success has not been a product of luck. Holtmann has been able to create both offensive and defensive schemes that bring out the best in his players. Bates-Diop has transformed into a Wooden Award candidate under Holtmann’s teaching and mentorship. Bates-Diop averages 20.2 points at 50.9 percent shooting, 9.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.

Standing at 6-foot-7 and 235-pounds, Bates-Diop’s versatility allows Holtmann increased line-up flexibility. Bates-Diop has a steady mid-range jumper, quick handles and the physicality to burn defenders in the post.

Senior forward Jae’Sean Tate has the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and play on the block. Tate, however, is not a volume scorer. He focuses on efficiency and making the smart basketball play. He averages 12.7 points on 54.8 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

The engine of Ohio State’s offense is C.J. Jackson. Jackson, a pass first point guard, is an all-around impressive player who can step up and help his team in a variety of ways. He averages 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, showing his overall versatility as a player.

Heart of a Fighter

Ohio State had no business winning at Purdue. They were without senior Kam Williams who has been suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons. Kaleb Wesson found himself in foul trouble early and only saw 12 minutes of action. Purdue was riding a 19 game winning streak and appeared unbeatable and destined for the number one seed in the Big Ten tournament. In the end though, none of that mattered.

Holtmann and his team rallied around each other and fought through the adversity. On a night where offense came at a premium, Holtmann rolled out a small line-up and the Buckeyes came roaring back behind an aggressive man-to-man defensive scheme. A team that did not believe in each other and in their coach would have quit and accepted it was not their night.

The 2017-2018 Bueckeyes have a different mentality though. They do not back down, regardless of the score or situation. This team personifies the personality and beliefs of Holtmann. After resurrecting a lifeless Butler program, Holtmann left a secure job to take on the daunting task of rebuilding Ohio State’s basketball program. He never shied away from the challenge, instead tackling it head on. And that is exactly what his team has done all season.

 

Featured image by Joe Maiorana/USA Today Sports

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