Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann always takes the blame.
He’s quick to take the fall in any Buckeyes loss or near-loss, no matter the time of year. Holtmann never blames his players.
In the immediate aftermath of Ohio State’s stunning early exit from the NCAA Tournament from Oral Roberts on Friday afternoon, Holtmann began the lengthy, months-long unpacking of a season that featured so much promise but ended with so much heartbreak.
No. 15 Oral Roberts 75, No. 2 Ohio State 72. And in the eyes of Holtmann, he’s to blame.
“As much as anything, you’re trying to bring some perspective to this season, which is hard to do in this moment,” Holtmann said about speaking to his players postgame. “We all have to be responsible for not quite getting it done, and that begins first and foremost with me. Obviously you’re a No. 2 seed for a reason, that means you put in great work throughout the season, you have a body of work that was really good. There were some tremendous moments this season.
“By and large it was a special year — with a conclusion we’ve got to lean into. It’s incredibly disappointing.”
Holtmann woke up Friday morning with an impressive 5-0 record in the first round of the Big Dance. He went to bed Friday night with a .500 resumé in the NCAA Tournament that now features — check that, carries — one of the biggest March upsets in Ohio State and NCAA Tournament history.
The loss to Oral Roberts was the first by a No. 2 seed to a No. 15 seed since 2016. Ohio State fell victim to the madness that happens in March, when brackets are blown up by upsets. Now Holtmann and his coaching staff have to pick up the pieces and find ways to become a better, stronger program on the other side of the heartbreak.
Ohio State hasn’t been to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament under Holtmann. He has only been there once in his coaching career, back in 2017 when his Butler team made the Sweet 16, just months before he took the Ohio State job. Getting to the second weekend and beyond is the goal every year. It just hasn’t happened for Holtmann at Ohio State. That must change.
“I think obviously that’s the next step for us, finding a way to get to the second weekend,” Holtmann said. “In previous couple of years, we were beat by teams that were higher seeds than us. … This has not happened to us in our four years together. But that doesn’t discount the fact that I understand that’s where we need to be moving forward. We certainly thought we had a great chance last year, we certainly thought we had a great chance this year.
“We didn’t get it done this year.”
Holtmann has a good program at Ohio State. The Buckeyes make the NCAA Tournament. They nearly won a Big Ten title less than a week ago. They are at or near the top of the Big Ten, thought by many to be the best conference in college basketball this season. Even with that, tournament success just hasn’t come — yet.
Who is to blame for that? It’s partially on the roster, which features plenty of capable scorers but has trouble defending against the better offensive players it faces. Part of that falls on the nature of March Madness. It’s called that because of, well, the madness.
But don’t tell Chris Holtmann the blame for a heartbreaking ending to this season falls anywhere but in the front seat of the team bus. Holtmann has an hours-long ride home from Mackey Arena back to Columbus to continue pouring over every little detail of what went wrong in an otherwise memorable season.
“I thought there were a lot of really important strides this year and a lot of really important moments,” Holtmann said. “This is incredibly disappointing. There’s no other way to look at it. It certainly doesn’t discount what our guys have done throughout the season. You’re playing in a win-or-go-home environment. And we’ve got to own that.
“Right now, we’ve got to lean into this disappointment, embrace it for what it is and see how we can grow moving forward.”