Ohio State Men's Basketball Snatched Defeat From the Jaws of Victory Again Under Chris Holtmann

By Johnny Ginter on December 20, 2022 at 9:20 am
Ohio State men's basketball coach Chris Holtmann

I don't believe in endemic attitudes in sports.

Let me rephrase that: I try really hard not to believe in endemic attitudes in sports. By which I mean the idea of a clutch gene in certain athletes, or that specific college sports programs are forever doomed/blessed by universal karma, or that entire geographical locations are somehow cursed.

The reason I push back so hard on these kinds of narratives is that I'm a student of history, and history has a very, very, very long memory. Alabama's dominance of college football (for instance) has felt inevitable for the better part of two decades now, but I'm old enough to remember when Mike Shula was getting the Crimson Tide sanctioned to hell and back and losing to Minnesota in the Music City Bowl. One Nick Saban later, and all memory of losing 61 games from 2000 to 2007 blows away like a fart in a hurricane.

And I begin with all of this to say that I don't truly believe that there's something supernatural about Chris Holtmann's men's basketball teams being incapable of holding on to significant leads in games, eventually causing defeats like the one we saw against North Carolina on Saturday. Deficiencies are fixable and nothing in life is static.

Unless you're Thanos.

I'm not talking about the movie version you're probably familiar with, a kind of Malthusian nutjob who can punch guys really hard. I'm also not referring to the ESPN version that made a genocidal maniac into a happy nice guy for a tweet about the World Cup. I'm also also not talking about Dawand Jones.

Instead, I'm referring to the comics version of the character from the 80's and 90's; a nihilist obsessed with death (and Death) who is smarter and more powerful than everyone else in the room, but who also subconsciously cannot avoid planting the seeds of his own downfall, knowing as he does that he's unworthy of the power he seeks.

In the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries from 1991, Thanos eventually accepts this, and teams up with the heroes before retiring to a quaint space farm. Philosophically this was a great portrayal of a classic villain that the reader knows has to lose, because his victory was internal. Thanos can't win, so he stops trying.

Ohio State men's basketball under Chris Holtmann does win more often than not, but after blowing a pretty comfortable lead against North Carolina on Saturday fans might be forgiven for thinking if this is just who Holtmann's teams are, that like Thanos maybe they too are doomed by hubris to blow it when it counts.

The Buckeyes were up by 11 points against the Tar Heels with just over seven minutes to go, and ended up squandering a second-half lead of 10 points or more for the fourth time in Holtmann's tenure with Ohio State. Against Butler in 2017, Ohio State had a 14 point lead with under four minutes to play and lost in overtime. In 2020, the Buckeyes lost to Minnesota despite an early second half lead of 11 points, and last season they got skunked by Penn State despite leading for roughly 10 points until the last five minutes or so of the game.

If we're being honest with ourselves, this isn't some terrible record of failure. Teams lose in dumb ways all the time that don't necessarily reflect on a program or coach.

But blown leads (even if they don't lead to losses most of the time) are frustrating because even though it'd be easy to write them off as a feature of college basketball games in general, for Ohio State fans wanting to see the Buckeyes perform at a higher level than they've seen over the past several years under Chris Holtmann this has begun to feel like a feature of his program, no matter who is on the court.

Put another way, when watching Ohio State men's basketball, I keep thinking about this quote from Mark Titus' Don't Put Me In, Coach:

Maybe that's what Ohio State men's basketball is as a program right now: a team that shows up every year with a lot of talent, but also lacks the confidence of its conviction. A team with permanently clenched cheeks, trying to escape with wins rather than seizing them.

Is it endemic? Is that just who the men's basketball Buckeyes are doomed to be, forever?

Of course not. But changing that starts with coaching.

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