The way Chris Holtmann describes it, he didn’t even have a decision to make.
Of course, he thought, he’d talk about the positives and the ultimate result in the immediate aftermath of a 72-66 win against Rutgers. Of course, he and his players in the locker room would celebrate the victory rather focus on the negatives that led to a second-half skid.
“I don't ever look at it like that,” Holtmann said. “It's too hard to win in this league. You think I'm going to come in with a sour, ‘Oh, man.’ Nick Saban might, but I'm not going to.”
Not at all. With a fairly upbeat demeanor, he made that clear.
The Wesson brothers – both Kaleb and Andre – felt the same way.
“A win's a win in the Ten,” Kaleb said. “They're not going to look pretty in the Ten. You've seen it yesterday – Michigan State and Illinois. They're not going to look pretty. A win is a win in the Ten.”
Andre agreed, adding, “Obviously it didn't go the way we wanted it to with giving up that big of a lead, but in the Big Ten wins are hard to come by, so you've got to take them.”
Holtmann and the Wessons understand the strength of the Big Ten as well as any other team in the conference.
They’re the ones, of course, who went through the four-game losing streak in January and still have a sub-.500 conference record despite putting together a 10-1 record in the non-conference portion of the season and rising as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press poll in December. And they also make up the team that dropped a four-point home loss to Wisconsin and three-point home loss to Minnesota in January.
“It certainly wasn't a downtrodden locker room, and I didn't want it to be. Having said that, I think they know we've got to do things better, and we'll have to play better moving forward. Hopefully in our next game we will.”– Chris Holtmann
To them, a win is a win. The result is in the record books and will never change.
Yet there’s also a bit of a tightrope to walk after a game that the Buckeyes nearly blew.
Ohio State slowly pulled out to a 15-point first-half lead that Rutgers cut to nine points before back-to-back 3-pointers from Andre Wesson and Justin Ahrens again gave the team a 15-point edge entering halftime. It was one of the best halves the team had put together in recent memory. Energy was high, Kaleb Wesson had 12 points and seven rebounds, they had nine assists compared to four turnovers, they had an edge on the glass and Rutgers was shooting worse than its season average from the court.
Seven minutes into the second half, the advantage stretched out to 20 points. And while Holtmann said afterwards that he continually told his team the Scarlet Knights would mount a comeback, the Buckeyes seemed relatively safe.
“They do not ever quit,” Holtmann said. “That's a credit to Steve (Pikiell) and the job he does and has done.”
What was a slow, steady comeback quickened when Rutgers went on a seven-point run in less than two minutes that leading scorer Jacob Young capped off with a pair of free throws to chop Ohio State’s lead to four points with 37 seconds remaining. Ten seconds later, Geo Baker followed up a pair of made free throws from Kaleb Wesson with a 3-pointer to give the Buckeyes just a three-point edge.
Two Andre Wesson free throws and one CJ Walker free throw later, Ohio State could walk out of the Schottenstein Center with a six-point win.
“I think overall, listen, we've got to do something better. No question,” Holtmann said. “But give (Rutgers) credit. I thought we were sloppy with the ball a few times late, and I just didn't love our defensive connectedness, and I didn't think offensively we finished enough plays in the second half. But sometimes you've got to survive games like this. You've got to make just enough plays. We did that. And it's a credit to our guys. Kaleb's free throws were huge. Great poise. Confidence. Dre made 1-of-2 and then CJ made both of them. Those are excellent plays. We certainly do need to do some things better.”
Those “things” that Holtmann referenced led to a downturn in play late in the game.
Rutgers went on a run during which it hit eight of nine shots late in the second half. Ohio State, on the other hand, did not make any shots from the field in the final 3:48. After Liddell scored with 13:05 remaining to give his team a 20-point lead, the Buckeyes hit only three field goals the remainder of the game.
Issues that need addressing? Yes.
But to Holtmann and his players, after experiencing the past two months and seeing the other Big Ten teams go through roller-coaster seasons, there was no use spending the first hour after Wednesday's game focusing only on what went wrong.
“I think you're always learning and growing from wins and losses,” Holtmann said. “That is one of our core values is you're always learning from wins and losses, from every moment. Every moment is a teachable moment. We've got stuff we've got to do better from this game. Having said that, we did a lot of things really well. We've got to take both and move forward. It certainly wasn't a downtrodden locker room, and I didn't want it to be.
“Having said that, I think they know we've got to do things better, and we'll have to play better moving forward. Hopefully in our next game we will.”