A (Second) First Time To Remember

COLUMBUS – Jake Diebler’s first win as Ohio State’s interim coach may have been easier to come by than Diebler’s first win as Ohio State’s full-time head coach.

His Ohio State basketball team opened up first-round action in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) on Tuesday night and had to hold on for an 88-83 win over Cornell.

The Buckeyes trailed for more than half the game, saw the scrappy visitors from the Ivy League answer every Ohio State run, yet the Buckeyes managed to hit key shots down the stretch.

By comparison, Diebler’s first win as the interim coach, after the dismissal of Chris Holtmann, saw the Buckeyes take down No. 2 Purdue, and while the game had to be settled in overtime, it felt different than the Cornell game.

Were there any different feelings for Diebler as he was getting ready for this one after signing a five-year contract to lead the Buckeyes?

“Not once the game started,” Diebler said. “I think leading into the game it was a little bit different. A little different feeling… I tried to keep the routine that I’ve been doing before games that the exact same.”

Ohio State as without Scotty Middleton, who was dealing with a family matter and lost point guard Bruce Thornton after 28 minutes of action to a sprained ankle. The status of each remains undetermined for Ohio State’s next game in the tournament.

The NIT is the little brother to the NCAA Tournament in the eyes of many fans and while it was a small crowd at Value City Arena, it got loud when it needed to. The largest cheer of the pregame festivities was the announcement of Diebler as the team’s head coach.

Coaches are locked into the moment, but Diebler was not afraid to admit that there were some nerves before things got going but after that it was all basketball.

“Yeah, is it okay to admit a little vulnerability,” Diebler said. “But once the game started, it was it was back to doing what I love. Coaching guys, coaching hard, and coaching with passion and energy.”

Ohio State had very little time to prepare for this game, learning their fate on Sunday and playing on Tuesday. Add to that a Monday press conference for Diebler to be announced as the head coach and it was a wild 72 hours, give or take.

Diebler relied upon things that he knew, and he knew that his team would give it their all.

“We got a great group that makes this really fun, so I just leaned into that,” Diebler said.

It would have been easier for everyone on the Ohio State side of things if the Buckeyes led from the opening moments until the final buzzer, but this game isn’t always easy.

Ohio State trailed by as many as 10 points in this game at one point and the Buckeyes found themselves behind with 64 seconds left in the game until a Jamison Battle three-pointer gave the Buckeyes a lead that they would not surrender.

Do you get more out of a hard-fought win in that type of situation than an easy game?

“I’m sure when there’s time to look back and reflect, we’ll say like, ‘Oh yeah, that was great experience,’ but in that in that moment, it’s all about that moment,” Diebler said. “That’s what I’ve stuck with from the time I was asked to do this and that wasn’t going to change today.”

The Buckeyes will next face Virginia Tech after the Hokies won their opening round game, 74-58 over Richmond.

Ohio State will have a couple of days to prepare for that one, more time than preparing for Cornell. But for Diebler, keep the games coming because he is not ready for this ride to end.

“I love doing this so that’s the best part,” Diebler said. “I wish we could have games all year long. This was great for all of us, players, myself, staff, and I think that experience will continue to grow and build.”

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