One game into his eighth season as the Robert Morris coach, Andrew Toole saved a little self-deprication to kick off his first postgame press conference of the year.
“Unfortunately we did our best to kick the Chris Holtmann era off in a positive direction,” he said.
After he admitted to having been more anxious about the game than he expected or hoped, the new Ohio State coach began his tenure with a 95-64 win. Wearing a tie after going without for last weekend’s exhibition game against the College of Wooster, Holtmann was on the court for the national anthem and received a nice round of applause when he was announced as the coach during pregame player introductions.
Chris Holtmann graces the first #Buckeyes program cover of his coaching era.
As mentioned in the game story, though, Holtmann said he “completely ignored” texts from friends and fellow coaches advising him to take some time to enjoy the moment.
“I was more probably anxious than I thought I would be,” he said. “I don’t know why. I didn’t think I’d be anxious. You want your players to perform well for themselves. I was more anxious and tied up probably than I thought I would be. Getting that under our belt is good. I don’t do a good job of that. My wife reminds me of that a lot.”
Junior Keita Bates-Diop, who led the Buckeyes with 19 points and 11 rebounds, said the chance to open the Holtmann era with a positive wasn’t lost on the players.
“I think it’s just good to start off the season like this, a good, convincing win,” he said. “We played hard, we did a lot of good things. We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on, obviously, but it was a good win and a good way to start the season off.”
Holtmann, he said, “was just his normal self. You don’t see him rattled. It was his first game too, so we just wanted to do what we do and do it well.”
That was by design.
“As a coach you learn to not let them see you sweat,” Holtmann said of his players. “At the end of the day, what I want our guys to do is be prepared to cut loose and play when it comes game time. If they’re not ready to do that then we haven’t prepared them well. I think they did a pretty good job of that, for sure, but you want your players to play with a certain poise and peace as they go out there and have a lot of fun. I think we did that for the most part. I look at a lot of the moments in this game and feel like there’s a lot of areas we have to make significant strides in, significant strides in.”
Now comes a quick turnaround before the Buckeyes host Radford on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. The Highlanders are ranked No. 195 nationally by KenPom.com and opened the season with a 72-63 home win against non-Division-I foe Georgia Southwestern.
The Buckeyes got substantial boosts from two of their three freshmen early and then from the third late.
Kaleb Wesson and Musa Jallow were Holtmann’s first two substitutions of the season when they checked in at the 15:08 mark. Jallow replaced senior Kam Williams and Wesson replaced sophomore Micah Potter, and both would go on to post impressive numbers.
Wesson’s 13 points were the most for a true freshman in a season opener since D’Angelo Russell had 16 in 2014. Jallow added 11, making them the first pair of freshmen to score in double figures in the season opener since JaQuan Lyle had 12 points and Daniel Giddens added 11 in 2015.
Kyle Young was the final scholarship player to see action, and his 11 minutes were the least of the group. However, he threw down two powerful dunks in succession late in the second half, giving the Buckeyes 28 total points from freshmen in their season opener.
#Buckeyes freshmen Kyle Young (left) and Kaleb Wesson loosening up before the season opener.
That is the highest total since Deshaun Thomas (24), Jared Sullinger (19), Aaron Craft (8), Jordan Sibert (4), J.D. Weatherspoon (3) and Lenzelle Smith (2) combined for 60 points in the 2010-11 season opener.
“We had some good moments off the bench,” Holtmann said. “I don’t ever go into a game saying we’re going to play a lot of guys. I knew that we were going to try to go, our rotation is about 9-10 deep right now. I would like to play guys now to get a feel for how we can be moving into the later parts of the season. We had some good moments from everybody on the bench and we have moments we can take film from and say we can do this better. I was excited that each guy that came in had some good moments. That’s important from this group. We have so many guys in new roles, and how many of our guys have really been part of closing out a game at a high level?”
Fun with numbers
*Ohio State hadn’t lost a home coaching debut since 1950. Floyd S. Stahl suffered a 68-51 loss to Kansas State on Dec. 4, 1950. Since then, Ohio State’s average margin of victory in four such games has been 14.5 points.
*The Buckeyes are now 3-0 all-time against Robert Morris, with an average margin of victory of 34.7 points per game.
*Graduate transfer Andrew Dakich did not attempt a shot in 17 minutes of action and looked to be actively avoiding doing so. Instead, he handed out a career-high five assists.
There was a possession late in the game that Holtmann said was among his favorite, and it was notable at the time. With a little more than four minutes to play, the Buckeyes used up every second of the shot clock before Kam Williams sunk a running floater from the left wing as the buzzer sounded.
Along the way were numerous passes, drives and kicks as the Buckeyes continued to search for the best shot. When Williams scored, it pushed the lead to 29 points at 84-55 with 4:09 to play.
“That was one of my favorite possessions of the night,” Holtmann said. “We had a lot of ball movement and guys passed up one and created a better shot. That was one of my favorite possessions. It was late. I think as much as possible when we talk to our guys, we want to be purposeful in how we play on both ends regardless of what the score is. That’s a challenge for guys. In the summer when we’re playing, it’s not real purposeful. It’s pick-up. That’s a change for them. That was a purposeful possession late when we were up.”
“I think he’s comfortable now. He knows where it is and it’s not going to move.” – Bates-Diop, after Holtmann said he wasn’t sure where the Ohio State bench was before the Wooster exhibition.