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Spirit & Sports

Team makes it through with so many assists

When COVID forced players and coaches to navigate heartaches and holidays in a bubble, they were there for each other.

Action shot of an OSU men's basketball game

Point guard C.J. Walker looks to pass to a teammate on a drive to the basket during the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan in their Big Ten tournament semifinal. Photo by Travis Ellison

OSU basketball player standing next to coach

Buckeyes forward Seth Towns listens to instructions from Coach Chris Holtmann, who also had advice for his players off the court throughout the COVID pandemic. Photo by Travis Ellison


But Ohio State enjoyed a strong regular season and reached the Big Ten title game before losing in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to Oral Roberts. The early exit stung the program, and yet the Buckeyes exceeded preseason expectations on several levels. The team wasn’t even ranked in the top 20 before the campaign tipped off Nov. 25. They finished 21–10 overall and 12–8 in the conference.

“We owned the fact we didn’t perform like we wanted to in the NCAA tournament,” Holtmann says of his final address to his players. “But we also acknowledged what we did between the end of the regular season and the end of the conference tournament — and it was significant.”

Holtmann was most proud of the maturity his group demonstrated in the face of unprecedented circumstances. His players were asked to live like hermits when they weren’t at the gym or attending rare in-person classes.

The players bought into the message of sacrifice for the sake of safety, limiting their exposures with the outside world. It meant not going to dinner or out with friends, Washington says. In some cases, it also meant not hugging parents after games.

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