ROSEMONT, Ill. – Simply put, it’s not been the easiest of seasons for Micah Potter. A strong start to his sophomore year was stymied with a high ankle sprain that lingered, and it wasn’t for about a month and a half until he finally started to feel like himself again.
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said it started during the week of practice leading into the Jan. 4 game at Iowa, when Potter started to string together strong practice performances. It culminated Wednesday night at Allstate Arena, where he was perfect on five shots and finished with a team-high 13 points in a 71-65 win against Northwestern that moved the No. 22 Buckeyes to 16-4 overall and 7-0 in the Big Ten.
“I don’t think that (game) happens if Micah has not practiced well the last couple of weeks,” Holtmann said. “Some of that coincided with him being really healthy. Practicing better has given him a little bit more confidence and then you saw today an example of him just making the necessary plays. I was really happy for him.”
Three games into the season, Potter was averaging 11.0 points and 5.0 rebounds as a starter before only playing 13 minutes against Northeastern in the final tune-up for the PK80 Invitational in Portland. He missed the opening game against Gonzaga and was in and out of the lineup for the next seven games. He missed four games total and was limited to a total of 14 minutes of playing time during that eight-game stretch.
At Iowa, he had six points in 15 minutes, his most extensive playing time since logging 31 minutes against Texas Southern and scoring a season-high 17 points. Against the Wildcats, Potter played 16 minutes.
Afterward, he was all smiles.
“It feels real good,” he said. “Obviously Kaleb (Wesson) and Keita (Bates-Diop) had some rough nights but it’s a rarity for them. Those two guys go at it every day in practice. And you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Northwestern, because they beat them up really well. They did a good job defensively on them, but at the same time I was glad I could step in and help the team.”
Known for his perimeter touch, Potter missed his first six three-pointers of the season before finally connecting on one against Maryland. He’s now gone 1-for-1 in three straight games.
“I just needed one to go in,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing for any kind of shooter – you just need to see one go in. That gives you a confidence boost.”
Northwestern coach Chris Collins said that in preparing for the Buckeyes, he was prepared to make Potter beat them rather than Bates-Diop. On a tough night, Bates-Diop, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting but had a team-high eight rebounds, said he enjoyed seeing Potter’s performance.
“I wasn’t surprised at all by that because he plays like that in practice,” he said. “It’s just getting that in-game rhythm and tonight was the perfect night for it.”
Holtmann was even more effusive with his praise.
“Well, I thought he was critical,” he said. “I thought Micah was sensational. I thought he was sensational.”
Early against Northwestern’s zone, the Buckeyes tried to look inside to find the likes of Bates-Diop and Wesson. They had some success, but Wesson found himself on the bench a few times getting a few talkings-to from the coaching staff.
Holtmann said the freshman is still growing through a Big Ten season.
“He’s going to go through some ups and downs,” he said. “We’ve got to do a good job as coaches getting him playing better. He’s got to embrace that himself. I thought he competed pretty well defensively tonight. I liked that. I don’t want to discount and just look at some of his missed plays offensively and say he had a bad night, because I thought he did some good things for us defensively. We’ve got to work on him finishing better.”
Wesson finished with 8 points on 3-of-8 shooting and added six rebounds.
Ohio State is typically well-represented when it plays at Northwestern, and this game was no exception. About 15 miles from campus, the Wildcats student section could have been measured in the dozens.
That left more room for friends and family members of a few Buckeyes. Joey Lane, a junior from Deerfield, Illinois, had around 20 family members and friends in the crowd.
“Half the people here it felt like were for Joey,” Bates-Diop said. “We’re running out and people are screaming for Joey. It’s like, wow, I haven’t heard that before.”
Bates-Diop, too, had a cheering section. He’s from Normal, Illinois, about a two-hour drive away.
“I had a few people here,” he said. “Most of my friend-friends are at school, but I had family and family friends able to come.”
After finishing a national television interview immediately after the game, Potter was stopped on his way to joining his teammates in the locker room by a crowd of about a dozen well-wishers primarily clad in purple.
“I had some friends that were in my church back in Florida at Montverde,” he said. “They ended up moving here to Chicago and they came. My dad was here, too, because he was coming from that area too. Very good family friends, very good church friends and they came to support tonight.”
6 – Shots Northwestern blocked, tying for the most by an Ohio State opponent this year
8 – Assists from C.J. Jackson
6.6 – Assists per game Jackson is averaging in his last three games
25 – First-half points for Northwestern. The Buckeyes have now held three of their last four opponents under 30 first-half points
2 – three-pointers for Andrew Dakich, who very nearly had a third that just rolled out
Here’s your strongest confirmation yet that I might not know what I’m talking about. With this win, the Buckeyes have officially eclipsed the win total I set for them in conference play before the season started. In picking them to finish 12th, I foresaw a 6-12 Big Ten record.
They’ve also equaled the win total I set for the season. For the regular season, I predicted a 16-15 overall record.
“They do so many things well. Offensively they’ve got about a billion sets so you’ve got to stay on your toes the entire 30 seconds. They do a really good job offensive rebounding. They’ve got a lot of wings that come in and bigs that come in and get offensive rebounds. Defensively they were playing zone the entire game, which was something we hadn’t seen all year. They mixed it up on us.” – Potter, on Northwestern