To Start Or Not To Start

Jamar Butler has enjoyed a record-breaking type of season as a senior at Ohio State, but a streak was snapped against Wisconsin that could not have made him very happy. The senior co-captain did not start against the Badgers, and today he discussed why that might have been the case.

Jamar Butler did not start during Ohio State's game against Wisconsin on Feb. 24. That much is known. Asking different people why Butler's streak of 95 consecutive games started will result in different answers.

Immediately following OSU's 58-53 loss to the Badgers, senior forward Matt Terwilliger told reporters that it was a team issue that kept Butler out of the starting lineup. A few moments later, head coach Thad Matta was more direct, saying it was his decision.

One day later, Butler gave reporters a third reason.

"Just was a personal matter I was dealing with," he said. "I just thank my teammates and coaches for helping me through it. It's over with and I'm through it."

Asked to elaborate on what sort of personal matter might have kept him out of the lineup, Butler declined to be more specific.

In Butler's place, freshman guard Jon Diebler re-entered the starting lineup after starting the first seven games of the season. Prior to the game, senior forward Othello Hunter draped his arm around Butler in what looked like a reassuring manner as the Buckeyes headed to the bench before pregame introductions.

As the Buckeyes struggled early, Butler was subdued on the bench. As the OSU defense forced the Badgers to commit a shot-clock violation, the crowd at Value City Arena erupted, as did the OSU bench with two notable exceptions. Butler and sophomore guard P.J. Hill were the only two players not to stand up and cheer, although Hill was clapping.

The senior was inserted into the game at the 15:56 mark of the first half with Wisconsin leading, 7-4. With Butler in the game, OSU went on a 13-3 run keyed by a trey and two steals by the point guard.

He finished the contest as the Buckeyes' leading scorer, finishing with 14 points on 5 of 14 shooting. He did not come out of the game, playing all of the final 36 minutes. Matta said he was not trying to send Butler a message by benching him and said he got what he had hoped for out of making his senior co-captain come off the bench.

"I thought he played well, I really did," Matta said. "I know that he had some looks that we all wish – nobody more than Jamar – had gone down for him, but I thought he played with great energy and did a great job."

Butler's status going forward remains uncertain. Matta said he thinks Butler will start Tuesday night against Indiana provided he practices well Monday afternoon.

Matta said the five players he started against the Badgers had practiced well and had played together all week. Butler said he did not learn he would not be starting until Thursday, three days prior to the game.

Whether he starts or comes off the bench makes little difference to Butler, he said.

"It didn't' change anything at all," he said of coming off the bench. "Starting is not a really big thing. If I start, I start. If I don't, I don't. When I'm on the court I'm going to play as hard as I can."

The last game Butler did not start came – ironically – against Butler in the second game of the 2005-06 season. Butler, a sophomore, provided 16 points off the bench in OSU's 79-69 overtime victory and then replaced Sylvester Mayes in the starting lineup six nights later against Virginia Tech.

His production totals this season make him the most indispensable member of the team, but Matta said he will not use the threat of taking away playing time when dealing with any of his players, Butler included.

"I'm not one of these guys that are into mind games," he said. "I like for our guys to know where they stand through communication. That's not something that I've ever practiced that way. Hopefully our guys have a pretty good feel for where they stand."

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