No. 14 Ohio State tries to pick up after COVID layoff, faces UNO

NCAA

New Orleans and Ohio State hope to restart their seasons Tuesday in Columbus after long COVID-19 pauses.

The No. 14 Buckeyes (8-2) and the Privateers (3-7) have not played since Dec. 11, as each lost two games on their schedules due to health and safety protocols.

For the Buckeyes, it was bad timing because they had won four in a row, starting with an upset of then-top ranked Duke on Nov. 30. In their most recent game, they thrashed Wisconsin 73-55 to move their Big Ten record to 2-0.

Since then, Ohio State was forced to cancel a showdown with Kentucky in Las Vegas on Dec. 18 and a home game vs. Tennessee Martin on Dec. 21.

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann had to break the news to his team two days prior to facing Kentucky that there were so many positive COVID-19 test results that the game was scratched.

“That was a difficult conversation to have with our players,” Holtmann said on his Dec. 20 radio show. “They really wanted to play in the game. It’s a rarity when you get a chance to play Duke and Kentucky.”

New Orleans had to welcome the pause in the schedule. The Privateers had lost with three consecutive games, and the last was saturated with COVID-19 factors. UNO had just seven players available in an 82-50 loss at Utah State on Dec. 11.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever made an excuse as a program, as a team, as a city or as a university,” New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger said afterward. “Our job is to show up, to be there for our teammates, to be there for our university, to be there for our city and represent the best we can. … The character of our team, I can’t thank them enough.”

After Utah State, the Dec. 17 game vs. Dillard was postponed to an undetermined date and the Dec. 21 game against Tulane — the teams’ first meeting since 2016 — was canceled.

The coaches must be concerned about a lack of sharpness due to a 17-day gap between games, which included time off for the holidays.

Holtmann brought his players back to campus for practice over the weekend and made it clear that he wanted the workouts to make up for lost time.

“They’re not fun, and they involve running and moving your body a lot, which they might not have done as much in the previous few days,” Holtmann said. “So, they’re not the most enjoyable, but it’s important to get back and get moving to give ourselves a chance to play well.

“And obviously we’re gonna have to shake some rust off, because that’s a long time to not play.”

In their only previous meeting, Ohio State beat New Orleans, 74-66, in the Sugar Bowl Basketball Tournament at the Louisiana Superdome in 1989.

–Field Level Media

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