The Game Winner
C.J. Jackson stopped well beyond the three-point line and hesitated for a split-second before hoisting up what would be the game winning three-pointer for the Buckeyes.
The basketball never touched the rim and barely brushed the net as it splashed perfectly through the iron.
It was a shot that every kid dreams of growing up, including Jackson himself. The only difference is that most dream of doing it in front of a roaring home crowd, as opposed to doing it on the road and silencing a crowd completely.
“That’s even better,” Jackson said. “You dream of playing in venues like this when you’re younger. And just to have one of these moments is unbelievable.”
Ohio State had a similar situation at the end of the first overtime, and it did not go as planned. This time, Jackson got the best look the Buckeyes were going to get.
“We ran a similar action at the end of the first overtime for J.T. and we didn’t execute that really well,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “The presence of mind to get the shot up. I don’t know, in C.J.’s mind I think he’d almost prefer to shoot a 25-footer in that situation than to get all the way to the rim. He’s a really good shooter and he’s capable of making that. I think maybe equally as good was the fact that we did have presence of mind a little bit better to press up and make sure they didn’t have another clean look at it.”
The Coach’s View
Basketball coaches have experienced every kind of win and loss that you can imagine, which is why after the Buckeyes won the way they did on Friday, Holtmann felt both excitement for his team and empathy for the Hoosiers.
“C.J. made a heck of an instinctive play,” he said. “It is something that we practice, but the kid deserves the credit for the shot because it was a deep three. I’ll be honest with you, you feel really happy for the kid and the team. You also recognize, quite honestly, I’ve lost like that before and it’s gut wrenching.
“So, I think there’s a level of respect that’s required in those moments because that’s a hard way to lose. So you just shake their hands and move on and celebrate in the locker room. My first thoughts were that I was really happy for C.J. and happy for our seniors because they just told me that they have never won here.”
Sing Your Song
After the game, the Buckeyes did exactly what Holtmann said — they went back to their locker room and sang fight songs. It wasn’t just the way they won the game, it was also where the game was won. For Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, this was their first ever win in Assembly Hall.
“It felt great to get a road win and sing in the locker room like that,” said Bates-Diop. “I’ve never won here. First, to get a win here, to win like that and sing that song, we couldn’t go out in a better way.”
It has been a long season, even in its abbreviated form, so what the Buckeyes have accomplished going 15-3 this season in conference play is remarkable. They were picked to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten before the season, and yet here they are vying for the top. How did they do it?
“It’s the togetherness, the toughness we have, and the mentality that we’re not in the lower half of the Big Ten,” said Bates-Diop. “It’s a mentality and maturity of the guys in the locker room. We had to look at all of that stuff and say we’re still going to shoot for the top of the Big Ten.”
So Now What?
The Buckeyes are back in Columbus and they’ll get some time off. Most of the team will no doubt be watching Sunday’s game between Michigan State and Wisconsin, because if the Badgers can pull off the upset, then the Buckeyes would have a share of the Big Ten Championship.
Holtmann, however, is focused on other things over the next week until the Big Ten Tournament begins.
“Rest. Rest. I mean they are exhausted,” he said of his team. “We rode some guys. I didn’t want to play Keita Bates-Diop 45 minutes, but I kept saying, ‘Do I want to win or…’ He’s going to have a few days off here, so we just rode him. We ran a couple of things late, and literally J.T. just could not function. That’s why I had to use one of the timeouts. It was for him, and he couldn’t move. So those guys need a lot of rest.”
[Photo courtesy OhioStateBuckeyes.com]