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Opinion: Kishpaugh’s Korner: January slide a recurring issue for Ohio State men’s basketball

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Ohio State now sits at 12th in the Big Ten following a five-game skid in January. Credit: Katie Good | Asst. Photo Editor

On Jan. 5, then-No. 24 Ohio State fell to No. 1 Purdue 71-69 in Columbus, courtesy of Boilermakers freshman guard Fletcher Loyer’s game-sealing 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, the battle with the top-ranked team in the country left the Buckeyes feeling optimistic about their prospects moving forward with a 10-4 record.

Fast forward to a month later, Ohio State now sits at 11-10 and 12th place in the Big Ten. What started as a season full of optimism has quickly turned to panic, with the Buckeyes unable to find the groove they found before the new year.

The nosedive could be explained by a number of reasons, but what stands out is an offense that has shown stretches of high-quality basketball turning cold. In its first 12 games, Ohio State averaged 81.7 points per game, and that number has dropped to 69.9 in the nine games since.

Most notably during that stretch is the 93-77 win over Iowa Jan. 21, when the Buckeyes shot 56.3 percent from the field and played their best game in weeks. That game is the only time the Buckeyes have shot 50 percent or above from the field since the 90-59 win over Alabama A&M Dec. 29, 2022.

The struggles for consistent offense persist, and head coach Chris Holtmann said the team is disappointed in the results through the first 10 games of conference play.

“In a lot of ways, I understood that there were going to be some challenges given the newness of the team,” Holtmann said. “But obviously you’re disappointed with the first round of Big Ten games. And I think there have been some moments where we’ve had an opportunity to capitalize, and we just haven’t been able to do that.”

It’s difficult to compare this last month of games to any recent slump for Ohio State, but looking at the 2018-19 season until now, the Buckeyes tend to be inconsistent once conference play heats up.

During the 2018-19 season, the Buckeyes sat at 12-1 heading into a home matchup with then-No. 8 Michigan State Jan. 5, 2019. They proceeded to lose to the Spartans in a tough 86-77 game, and from there, Ohio State lost five of its next six games, ending the month of January with a 13-7 record.

The next season, Ohio State reached a No. 2 ranking coming off a 71-65 win against then-No. 6 Kentucky, sitting at an 11-1 record. The Buckeyes went on to drop six of their next seven games, being held to under 60 points in five.

There are a number of factors that go into coaching any game of basketball, much less an entire season. Injuries, availability and crucial calls from the referees are among countless factors at play when attempting to coach a team to its fullest potential.

As assistant coach Mike Netti said, there is no “magic formula” when coaching games, whether it’s through a winning streak or a slump. And he said the Buckeyes know more than anyone how much the losing hurts.

“We believe that the adversity they’re seeing right now is going to benefit them,” Netti said. “It’s just painful, it’s painful being in it, there’s no doubt and no hiding it. It’s painful to see the mistakes for those guys and for us. We all got to be better.”

Looking at the overall landscape of Ohio State’s past seasons under Holtmann, there are noticeable inconsistent results compared to the start of the respective years. Ohio State has made the NCAA Tournament every season under Holtmann except for 2020 — when it was canceled due to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — but hasn’t made it past the second round.

Inconsistent play with a team that replaced over two-thirds of its roster is to be expected at the beginning of a season but not during a stretch of conference play where wins become important resume boosters for the chance at earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Currently on the outside looking in, Ohio State needs to find its answers quickly if the rest of this season can be salvaged.

The frustrating aspect of the inconsistency is the knowledge that the rosters are talented, because Holtmann has developed NBA draft picks — such as Malaki Branham, Keita Bates-Diop and E.J. Liddell — and appears to be developing another one in freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh.

However, results on the court matter, and a disappointing stretch of basketball may see the Buckeyes miss out on March Madness for the first time in Holtmann’s tenure.

The Buckeyes certainly have the talent to break out of the slump, but if they continue to slide, the gloomy Columbus weather may portray an even gloomier ending for Team 124.

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