Coach Chris Holtmann has wanted to see how his first Ohio State team would handle adversity. On Thursday night at Value City Arena, it showed up threefold, and it left the Buckeyes staggered at times.
The Buckeyes had to adjust on the fly to a zone defense they weren’t expecting from Texas Southern while playing without freshman center Kaleb Wesson, whose one-game suspension was announced just before tip-off. Then a 17-point second-half lead evaporated to just two points, and the Tigers had the ball.
But in a deviation from recent history, Robert Lewis’ open three-point look from the left corner missed the rim, and after Keita Bates-Diop grabbed the rebound, the ball found its way to Micah Potter.
The sophomore center scored to again make it a two-possession game, and it started a 13-0 run that propelled the Buckeyes to an 82-64 win in front of 9,984 fans at Value City Arena.
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In a situation where recent teams would seemingly have found a way to come up short, this Ohio State team didn’t shy away from the moment.
“You learn from your mistakes, right?” Potter said. “Over the past couple of years we very well might have lost that game.”
At the pregame shootaround, the Buckeyes learned Wesson had been suspended for a failure to meet team expectations regarding time management. That left Potter as the lone true option at center against a Tigers team that didn’t bring leading scorer Demontrae Jefferson.
Texas Southern coach Mike Davis stuck with a zone defense for the entire game — for the first time, he said, in probably three years — because he didn’t think the Buckeyes (3-0) could shoot their way out of it. With their lead at 54-37, they missed four straight threes and allowed a 20-5 run that had the Tigers (0-3) feeling the upset.
Throughout the run, though, Holtmann preached the same message to his players: enjoy this.
“There’s an embracing of that moment that’s important if you’re going to perform well,” he said. “I don’t want guys to shy away from it. We don’t need heroes in those moments. We just need to have a commitment to make the next right play.”
From there, the Buckeyes ran the Tigers off the court with a 23-7 run over the final 6:58, and it was a team effort. In his first career start, freshman Musa Jallow had two steals during the run that directly led to four points and hit a three-pointer, and Potter scored seven of his career-high 17 points.
Bates-Diop finished with his third consecutive double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Senior Jae’Sean Tate also had 17 points, and Jallow had 13 points, six rebounds, four steals and two assists in 29 minutes. Holtmann lauded Jallow’s defense, particularly his awareness to break up lobs for 7-foot-2 Tigers center Trayvon Reed.
“I’m not out here to get 30 a night,” Jallow said. “I mean, that would be great if it happened, but I’m just out there to play defense and bring the energy for the team.”