COLUMBUS — Chris Holtmann was quick to give Michigan credit after Ohio State fell on Sunday.
Ohio State had just walked off the floor following a fast-paced, exciting game between two of the most elite teams in college basketball. It was played at a high level. It lived up to the billing of the first-ever top-five matchup between two rivals.
Ohio State just came away on the losing end of it. And now the No. 4 Buckeyes must find a way to put the loss behind them and move onto the final three games of the regular season.
“It’s hard to feel that way being on the losing end of it,” Holtmann said. “But it was a game certainly that was played with great pace, and for the most part, really good execution offensively. There’s no question, guys made a lot of shots. We’ll see. We have to figure out how to move forward.”
The Buckeyes battled with No. 3 Michigan for all 40 minutes, trading baskets and playing one of the games of the year in the Big Ten. Sure, Ohio State came up short after going toe-to-toe with Michigan. But that doesn’t mean the outcome couldn’t have gone the other way — or that it couldn’t be flipped in a postseason rematch.
Such is life in the Big Ten, a conference that becomes more daunting as the season goes on. Losses will happen. Ohio State now has to shift its focus to its next opportunity after losing for the first time in eight games.
The loss to Michigan is certainly a way to prime the Buckeyes for the upcoming stretch that includes two top-11 teams to end the regular season, a gauntlet in the Big Ten Tournament and then the Big Dance.
“The Big Ten is the best basketball conference in the country,” said senior guard Duane Washington, who led the Buckeyes with a career-high 30 points. “Teams are really, really good. They have been all year. This is the time when teams are at their best, going into March. Everybody knows March Madness.
“Teams are prepping and preparing themselves at a really high level to take part in that. Some really high-level competition with really high-level guys. We’re just going to keep doing what we do, playing how we play.”
So how do the Buckeyes learn and move on from a home loss to their top rival?
There are areas this Ohio State team can improve. Holtmann would rather not give up 11 3-pointers and 92 points while being out-rebounded. The Buckeyes are going to do it by focusing on themselves rather than how they competed with a fellow top-ranked team.
“My focus right now is just going to be on areas that we can improve and grow and get better,” Holtmann said. “There are things that we can do as coaches to put our guys in a little bit better position defensively. That’s really what I’m going to do. I think in terms of a measuring stick, I do think they’re good, and they’re deserving of everything that comes their way.
“But my focus is our team, and I think we’re a good team, as well. I think improvement, we need to be better come Thursday night in certain areas.”
With the Big Ten Tournament just two weeks away, Ohio State still has a tough three-game stretch to close out the regular season. And then the Buckeyes will head to Indianapolis to try capturing a conference tournament crown.
To do that, they’ll likely have to go through Michigan, the team that just beat them on their home floor.
Of course, Holtmann, Washington and Ohio State will give credit to Michigan for winning a high-level, championship-caliber game. But they also understand the likelihood of a rematch in a couple of weeks — if the Buckeyes focus on themselves and continue to improve before then.
“Credit to them,” Washington said. “They’re a really good basketball team. We’ll definitely see them again.”