Keyshawn Woods stepped up when the Buckeyes needed him the most

Eleven Warriors

Keyshawn Woods has underperformed for the Ohio State Buckeyes all season. Head coach Chris Holtmann has continued to preach that his leadership and experience has been vitally important, but in terms of the stat sheet, the fifth-year senior has been quite a disappointment. Up until Thursday afternoon.

In a must-win game in the second round of the Big Ten tournament for the Buckeyes if they wanted any shot of making The Big Dance, Woods had arguably his best game of the season, totaling a team-high 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block while knocking down 9-of-13 shots. Whether it was pulling up for a jumper or attacking the rim, Woods had it all going for him against the Hoosiers. It was one of the many reasons Ohio State beat Indiana, 79-75.

“Overall, yeah it was [his best game],” Holtmann said of Woods following the game. “He was really good at Creighton … but he was tremendous [Thursday]. Tremendous. I thought he was tremendous in every way.

“I thought he’s looked, since the 10-minute mark of the Wisconsin game, like a guy that wasn’t ready to see his career over anytime soon. And that’s what you hope in seniors. Like, that is what we’ve been kind of hoping to see, honestly, in light of being down Kaleb, we’ve been hoping to see that.”

Thursday’s second-round matchup between Ohio State and Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament was important. Not only was it another opportunity to give the Buckeyes another win to add to their resume, but ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi even considered it a play-in game: Whoever won the game would clinch their spot in the NCAA Tournament; the loser would likely see themselves playing in the NIT to conclude the season.

Led by Woods, Ohio State was able to take care of business against Indiana. The Buckeyes knew what had to be done, but thanks in part to Woods and others, they were able to accomplish their goal on Thursday.

“I knew we needed this win. And nobody thought we were going to win this game. A lot of people thought we were going to lose to Indiana and there was already a lot of talk about Michigan State, so I kind of took that personal,” Woods said. “We took it personally as a team.

“This was definitely one of my better games as a Buckeye, and I definitely wanted to play tomorrow. It was important to me, and it was important to us as a team. I hope we’re in [the NCAA Tournament now]. But if we win tomorrow, we’re definitely in. We just have to keep it going, keep bringing the same effort that we had tonight into tomorrow and we’ll be good.”

It was a game that gave Buckeye Nation a glimpse of what Woods can in fact do and something that the guard has been in search of all season. With Ohio State’s entire 2015 top-10 recruiting class no longer with the Buckeyes due to all of them transferring away from the program, they were forced to look elsewhere for senior and veteran leadership. Besides Woods, the only other seniors on the roster are point guard C.J. Jackson and former-walk-on-turned-Towel-Gang-leader Joey Lane.

Woods and Jackson are not only expected to provide leadership but are expected to produce on the court as well. Up until Thursday afternoon, Woods’ productivity on the court has been inconsistent, to say the least. He has scored in double figures in just nine games this season and is now averaging 7.1 point and 2.4 assists while shooting 39.7 percent from the floor and 28.4 percent from three-point range in 26.6 minutes per game.

Woods may have struggled throughout much of his first and only season in Columbus, but the fifth-year senior stepped up when his team needed him the most. That’s all Ohio State could have asked for. Now, it seems as though they will be one of 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament rather than watching in the comfort of their own house. If so, it will be the Holtmann-led Buckeyes’ second straight trip to March Madness during two seasons where they were projected by many to finish as one of the worst teams in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes take on top-seeded Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament Friday afternoon. Ohio State likely secured a spot in the NCAA tournament with their win over Indiana, but if they want to leave no doubt in the committee’s minds, they can do so by upsetting the Spartans. If Woods plays as he did on Thursday, it’s definitely possible. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET.