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Ohio State, Chris Holtmann can send clear statement with win over Indiana

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Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann is looking for a win that would send the Buckeyes to the Big Dance. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Basketball

Ohio State, Chris Holtmann can send clear statement with win over Indiana

CHICAGO — Given the choice before the season started at Ohio State and some truth serum, Chris Holtmann surely would have accepted the offer.

One game in the Big Ten Tournament. An opponent the Buckeyes have already proven they can beat away from home. And with a win, another NCAA Tournament bid is secured.

For a transition year, what more could the program really ask for in March?

Sure, a coach might point to all the experience his freshmen gained, the lessons from the adversity and setbacks along the way and the memorable moments created when the Buckeyes were at their best. Ohio State wouldn’t have wanted to fast-forward through all that straight from October until a Thursday morning in Chicago against Indiana.

But for all the highs and lows, if Holtmann had known this is where the Buckeyes would end up, there’s little doubt he would have gladly taken the opportunity.

“Listen, we’ve got a choice in this whole deal,” Holtmann said after the regular season ended with a third consecutive loss. “The choice is to complain about the circumstances and what’s happened or just to control our daily attitude and our approach to each day and how aggressive we’re being with our approach each day. Embrace the fact that while we were in great position — I don’t follow it enough to know where we’re at now — but the reality is we certainly have something to play for and that needs to be our approach.

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Ohio State will have Kaleb Wesson back in the lineup against Indiana. (Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports)

” … I think the unspoken is always there. Guys understand what tournament play is all about, and if we don’t have great preparation and play with tremendous urgency then it will be a short stay.”

The Buckeyes don’t need to take up residence in the Windy City for the entire weekend in the conference tournament, and in all likelihood they only need to win once to punch a ticket back to the Big Dance.

The odds of that certainly improved with Kaleb Wesson set to return from his suspension, and it helps that the Buckeyes have prior experience this year beating an Indiana team that has been every bit as inconsistent as they have this year. Predicting anything with this Ohio State squad can be a challenge, because they’ve shown an equal ability to surprise by overachieving early in the year and disappoint like they did down the stretch when it appeared a tournament bid had been secured after picking apart Iowa — right before losing Wesson for three games.

The road hasn’t been smooth for Ohio State in Holtmann’s second season. But it was also never supposed to be as the bill from the previous regime’s recruiting failures finally came due in a bridge year before a star-studded recruiting class arrives to dramatically raise the ceiling for the future.

The Buckeyes, though, are still on the brink of accomplishing something significant. And it’s all on the line now against the Hoosiers.

“Believe it or not, these situations can be stressful for kids,” Holtmann said. “They know what’s going on out there and all of that. It can be stressful, so you’re trying to minimize that as much as possible. Realize that this is a game and we’re doing it together. But part of the fun is working through this together and then seeing the rewards of that together.

“Listen, if we’re not good enough, we’re not good enough. But we’re going to fight like hell to get there.”

The Buckeyes are down to one last battle. And the prediction here is that they’ll be good enough to keep playing meaningful basketball.

The pick: Ohio State 68, Indiana 63.

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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