Carton's New Role Possible Fix for Ohio State Hoops
The statistics from D.J. Carton's performance Saturday at Indiana would suggest he'd receive the toughest consequences from Ohio State's latest loss in a four-game slide from No. 2 in the nation to No. 21.
But while numbers tell one story, effort tells another, and that's why Carton is likely to start Tuesday in a 6:30 p.m. tip against visiting Nebraska despite seven turnovers at IU.
It's not that head coach Chris Holtmann excuses mistakes, but he's more forgiving of ones made aggressively than those he attributes to inadequate effort.
That's why sophomore guard Duane Washington, whose scoring has keyed some of OSU's biggest wins this season, played only eight minutes in Bloomington and Carton kept getting the ball even after handing it a troublesome amount to the Hoosiers.
"The ball was in his hands a lot," Holtmann said. "...when the ball is in your hands that much and he's an aggressive player and it's an emotional game, he'll learn from it. I'm confident he'll learn from it. He did some good things as well."
That Carton did, driving and creating, scoring off the bounce and knocking down two three-pointers to score 10 points.
For a team that hasn't scored 60 points in any game during its losing streak, such offensive contributions can't be undervalued, which is why Carton will likely start along point guard C.J. Walker against the Cornhuskers (7-9).
Holtmann hopes that backcourt can provide some scoring punch and preserve possessions better than the Buckeyes have while averaging 16 turnovers per-game during their skid.
Washington was integral to the Ohio State wins that opened eyes nationally, leading the Buckeyes in scoring against Villanova (14) and North Carolina (18), while contributing 8 points against Kentucky.
Washington's shot has deserted him lately, but that's not why he sat for long stretches Saturday.
"I just did not feel he was ready to play,” Holtmann said Monday. “I felt like he was not prepared to play in a tough environment on the road. I just did not feel like his mind was where it needed to be, and it was pretty evident even in the short minutes that he played.”
Holtmann was quick to note that Washington's attitude is fine and he's willing to work toward correcting his mistakes, but mistakes that lead to defeats are more consequential now that OSU has slipped closer to the NCAA Selection Bubble than it is a Top 4 seed.
Getting a victory over Nebraska, which despite its sub-.500 record has shown flashes in wins over Purdue and Iowa, is essential to rebuilding the Buckeyes' post-season resume, to say nothing of its confidence.
A noon Saturday game at Penn State is sure to be prickly, given Ohio State's 106-74 annihilation of the Lions (12-4 2-3 Big Ten)in early December and the fact they could be similarly desperate if riding a three-game losing streak after playing Wednesday at Minnesota.
The Buckeyes need to blunt their losing streak now or risk yet another blow to their self-belief that's already taken some debilitating body shots.
"I think you have to be really tough-minded," Holtmann said. "I think there's natural mental hurdles that you have to overcome when you go through a difficult stretch, but we have to remain honest and yet hopeful for what we can be, and yet stay in the moment as much as possible. I think that's the only way to work ourselves out of a difficult stretch."
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