COLUMBUS — Even Chris Holtmann’s daughter is a little worried.
The second-year Ohio State coach has been noticeably down lately during a skid in which the Buckeyes have lost six of the last seven games and saw one of their key players sidelined indefinitely with an injury.
Holtmann acknowledged that January has been the toughest stretch of his coaching career. And Nora Jane Holtmann noticed.
“My wife told me after one of the games that I needed to go talk to my daughter, who’s 8, because she was very concerned about me,” Holtmann said. “That was after the game, so I had to wake her up and tell her daddy is going to be OK, we’re going to keep fighting at this thing and working at it and try to figure out how to do better.”
Holtmann came to Columbus with a reputation for being able to make his teams greater than the sum of their parts. But with a young lineup and lack of depth, the coach had predicted adversity this season. Now the Buckeyes are mired in it.
Ohio State lost five straight Big Ten games to start 2019, the longest losing streak at the school in 21 years. After outlasting Nebraska on Saturday, the Buckeyes were blown out by No. 5 Michigan on Tuesday night.
The same problems have hurt Ohio State all month — poor shooting, turnovers, committing too many fouls and not drawing enough.
The team’s best player, Kaleb Wesson, gets into foul trouble early and often. His frustration boiled over in the 65-49 loss at Michigan, touching off a second-half skirmish that resulted in technical fouls for players from each team.
“We can handle it better,” Holtmann said. “I think that was accumulation of some frustration, for a variety of reasons.”
With the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Wesson on the bench, the Buckeyes lack height and bulk inside and are forced to play small ball.
Last year, Holtmann’s first in Columbus, the former Butler coach took a squad that was supposed to be rebuilding and produced unexpected success: a 25-9 record — including an impressive 15-3 finish in the Big Ten — and an NCAA Tournament appearance, with Keita Bates-Diop emerging as the conference player of the year.
This season, the Buckeyes (13-7, 3-6 Big Ten) started with a 12-1 run and reached No. 13 in the AP Top 25 before the bottom dropped out.
Guard C.J. Jackson, the only senior in the starting lineup, appreciates Holtmann’s emotional desire to right the ship.
“No one likes losing,” he said after the Michigan game. “You could tell he was upset about that. But as a player, you want that. You don’t want a coach that’s satisfied with losing.”
Now Holtmann has to find a way to motivate his team for the stretch. And he has to manage himself so as not to worry Nora Jane.
“You take losing way harder than you enjoy winning, and there is some perspective required,” he said.
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