I’m not sure I’ve ever seen more stories come out of an 18-point Ohio State win against a mid-major team in the middle of November. Let’s take quick stock of everything that went into tonight’s game, an 82-64 win against Texas Southern:About 45 minutes before the game began, Ohio State confirmed that freshman center Kaleb Wesson had been suspended for one game. About half an hour before the game began, it was announced that Texas Southern’s leading scorer (and reigning Southwestern Athletic Conference player of the week) Demontrae Jefferson did not make the trip. Less than half an hour before the game began, Ohio State announced on its pregame show that this was the final game for longtime athletic trainer Vince O’Brien. About 20 minutes before the game began, freshman Musa Jallow was announced as the starter for the first time in his career, replacing fifth-year senior Kam Williams.
Not enough for you? For the first time in years, Texas Southern plays a zone that Ohio State wasn’t completely prepared for and, after trailing by 17 points early in the second half, pulled within two points before the Buckeyes put the Tigers away with a big, game-closing run.
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Everybody sit back for a minute and process all of that. On a given night, any of those topics would be the lede to a story and likely the bulk of one, too. Tonight, each was essentially a footnote to one overarching thought: unlike what we’ve seen for the last two seasons, in this game, this Ohio State team was thrown about as much adversity as possible and it still found a way to win.
It remains early in the schedule, and Texas Southern is ranked No. 262 nationally by KenPom.com. But still, this felt like the start of some sort of early-season statement about the culture of the program under new coach Chris Holtmann.
“Well listen, beyond I think setting the record for an opposing player catching lob dunks I thought we had some really good things we responded to in this game,” he said. “I told our guys that when they made a run that this is what we want, we want to see how we respond to these moments here. We did some things to contribute to the run but they also made some shots they’re capable of making. I was really pleased with our guys’ response in that moment.”
Sophomore Micah Potter and Jallow in particular were impressive. Potter set a career high with 17 points while going 9 of 10 from the free-throw line and played some solid minutes against 7-2 center Trayvon Reed, and opened the postgame press conference with some instructions regarding his freshman teammate.
“First and foremost, his name’s Musa, right?” Potter said, before anyone could ask him a question. “His nickname’s Moose, so on all social media and stuff, whenever he goes off like he did today, I want you all tweeting out, ‘The Moose is loose.’ We’ve got a pet moose and everything. That’s what we say, so that’s what you guys need to be saying, too. We need to get all of Ohio State saying that.”
I’ll have more on Jallow in the Dispatch in the coming days, but I felt this was Potter’s most impactful game in his career and it came when the Buckeyes needed him because they literally had no other options.
“I think he knew his role was going to be increased,” Holtmann said. “We tried to challenge him with responding against the 7-2 kid and I thought he did some good things in there. He took care of the ball when we threw it in there against the zone. He made strong, powerful plays, catching the ball with two feet and two hands. He obviously made his free throws. He did some really good things for us. I’m sure there’s some things we need to clean up with him but I was proud of his contribution.”
It was clear about two hours before the game that Wesson wouldn’t be playing when he was being put through a pregame workout by assistant coach Terry Johnson that seemed far too strenuous for someone about to play a game. The suspension was warranted, Holtmann said in a statement, “for a failure to meet the expectations of the men’s basketball program. This is specifically regarding time management and will be a one-game suspension.”
Meanwhile, after being thrust into a starting role last season when Keita Bates-Diop went down with a leg injury, Williams was swapped out of the lineup for 17-year-old freshman Musa Jallow, who could still be playing as a senior in high school this season.
Both Holtmann and Potter credited Wesson for how he handled the situation.
“He took it really well,” Holtmann said. “Kaleb’s a great kid. This is a part of maturation for freshmen. Today is when I finalized my decision along with our coaching staff, talking through some things. He’s very important to what we’re doing. Obviously we really could’ve used him. I think he would’ve been really effective attacking some of the zone here tonight, but he responded great. I just said in there, I heard him more than anybody on the bench. That’s great to see.”
Added Potter, who played a career-high 31 minutes, “My teammates helped me out a lot and Kaleb actually helped me out a lot too. Even though he was out of the game, he was the loudest one on the bench, him and Joey (Lane). That’s something we’ve got to continue to do. It’s next man up. If guys can’t play, they’ve got to be able to fulfill their role of being loud on the bench and Kaleb did a great job with that today.”
Off the bench, Williams went 1 for 6 from the field and finished with three points and one rebound in 16 minutes of playing time while Jallow had 13 points, six rebounds, four steals, two assists and no turnovers in 29 minutes.
Holtmann didn’t commit to keeping Williams on the bench but also didn’t commit to putting him back in it, either.
“He responded really well,” he said. “We’ve talked about this prior. Some of his best games were coming off the bench his sophomore year. He knows that. It’ll be a fluid thing. I don’t know it’ll necessarily be consistent every game. I’m sure we’ll mix it up quite a bit but right now that may be the way we go. Obviously we’ve got a really good team Sunday. Kam responded well.”
Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said it had been years since his team had played zone for an entire game. Holtmann said the Tigers had shown zone on a grand total of two possessions in their first two games this season.
It gave the Buckeyes problems, and part of that was due to their perimeter shooting. Ohio State finished 9 for 28 (32.1 percent) from three-point range and are now 22 for 73 (30.1 percent) for the season. Entering the game, Holtmann said he lost some sleep at night wondering if he had worked his team enough on its zone offense.
“With zones, I think you go through pockets when you struggle,” Holtmann said. “You go through droughts because you’ve got to penetrate the zone some you’ve got to throw it in some but you’ve also got to make some perimeter shots at times, so you do have some droughts. I thought we got relatively clean looks. We changed our offense a little bit about midway through the second half when we started to struggle. I thought we got too stagnant so we went to more of a motion against it and that freed us up a little bit.
“When I’ve gone against a zone for 40 minutes it’s never seemed like we played really good against it for 40 minutes. Zone has a way of doing that to you.”
Not only did Jefferson not make the trip, but Davis said he might not play again for the Tigers.
"He’s suspended right now," the coach said. "We’re not sure we’re going to bring him back."
Through the first two games, the 5-7, 150-pound sophomore had averaged 21.0 points.
“Coach (Holtmann) was saying this is exactly what we want in the huddle. There’s always going to be times of adversity, especially with a brand-new team and brand-new staff like we have. It’s up to us to lock down and go through that adversity. It’s going to get worse the rest of the year. We’re going to have a lot more tough competition coming through with games coming up, especially the PK80 next week. It was just a small little test for us and we passed it.” – Potter, on the message late in the game as Texas Southern was mounting its run