There was concern about how Ohio State would fare in its home opener Sunday afternoon at Value City Arena. While Purdue Fort Wayne didn’t carry the same cachet as season-opening foe Cincinnati, the Mastodons came to Columbus with recent history of success against the Big Ten and boasting one of the nation’s top mid-major players in guard John Konchar.
Although the Buckeyes led for all but 42 seconds of the first half, the outcome was in question until freshman Duane Washington buried consecutive three-pointers with roughly a minute left to give the Buckeyes some breathing room. Then a seven-point halftime lead grew, and grew, and grew until it hit 48 points in what would be a 107-61 win.
There’s a lot to unpack. Freshman Luther Muhammad shut Konchar down to the tune of 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting, and most of those points weren’t scored with the freshman guarding him. C.J. Jackson poured in a career-high 25 points including a stretch where he hit a three-pointer on three straight possessions. After not being used in the Cincinnati game, Jaedon LeDee made his debut and scored 16 points thanks to a big effort from the free-throw line.
Even senior Joey Lane got into the action with five points, a career-high three assists and two rebounds while playing the final 5:33 of the game.
“It’s just a good feeling,” Jackson said of the game as a whole. “We had to string a couple good days of practices. We knew they were going to make tough shots. We focused on the defensive end first and executed our plan.”
During the first half, the Mastodons nabbed 20 rebounds and had seven on the offensive glass. They finished with 30 for the game and 12 on offense, several of which came in garbage time. Purdue Fort Wayne also came up empty on 11 three-point attempts after halftime after hitting 6 of 16 (37.5 percent) in the first half.
“There were times they played more aggressively,” he said. “They beat us to more loose balls in the first half. That’s what I was most disappointed with. We’re not going to come out and overwhelm a team like that in the first 10 minutes, typically. There are definitely some things we need to do better than what we did in the first half.”
“Yes,” Holtmann said. “I thought we got beat to a lot of loose balls. A lot of long rebounds. I have to do a better job of making that a priority for us because we got beat too many times, we really did.”
Said Purdue Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman, “I need to buy whatever Chris sold his team at halftime, because that would be great to have a team come out and shoot that well and defend that well in the second half.”
Washington Jr. went 6 for 9 from three-point range, tying him for the most made threes by a freshman in Ohio State history. Russell did it three times during his lone season with the program. His 20 points off the bench are the most for a Buckeye since JaQuan Lyle had 27 against Wisconsin on Feb. 4, 2016.
Ohio State has now started its season 2-0 in 15 straight years since it began the 2003-04 season with an 0-2 record. That was also the last season the Buckeyes lost their home opener, a 73-53 defeat to No. 13 Georgia Tech in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The win came against a Purdue Fort Wayne team picked to finish fourth in the nine-team Summit League. The Mastodons are now 2-20 all-time against the Big Ten, with both wins coming in successive years against Indiana during the last two seasons.
The schools have actually played each other 125 times since 1980 in men’s volleyball.
The win moved the Buckeyes up from No. 35 nationally in the KenPom.com rankings to No. 32, and it also impacted their projected win total. Ohio State is now forecasted to finish the regular season at 20-11 overall and 11-9 in Big Ten play, a one-game improvement from where those numbers sat Sunday morning.
In the opener at Cincinnati, Muhammad scored 11 points in his debut. Last year, Kaleb Wesson and Musa Jallow had 13 and 11, respectively, in their first games.
LeDee’s 16 points are the most for an Ohio State freshman in his first game since D’Angelo Russell had 16 in a 92-55 win against UMass Lowell on Nov. 14, 2014. He did it at the line, where he was 12 for 14.
“The second half is the second half, but the play in the first half was what I thought was good for him, those short minutes where he didn’t turn it over, he didn’t have any offensive fouls, he did his job, he defended, he rebounded with activity, he finished a couple plays, or got fouled,” Holtmann said. “He’s a very good free-throw shooter. Those minutes in the first half are critical for him and for us moving forward.”
Fifteen of his 16 points came in the second half.
Andre Wesson went up for a monster dunk late in the first half only to come crashing down after contact near the rim and landing flat on his back. Play continued as he writhed in pain, and once the action was finally stopped Washington was the first teammate to reach him.
After needing assistance to limp to the locker room, Wesson did not start the second half but did return for a brief spell before ultimately being taken out for good with 12:09 to play and the Buckeyes comfortably ahead at by 21 points. The injury was classified as a lower back strain at the half and his return was listed as questionable. He looked a little ginger while on the court, but Holtmann said he would have stayed in the game if not for his four fouls.
“That was the reason he came out,” Holtmann said.
It was an eerie flashback to 2009, when Evan Turner fractured his back going up for a dunk at the same end of the court.
Asked if he was concerned about Wesson’s long-term availability, Holtmann said no.
“I think he’s going to be sore,” he said. “He took a really hard fall. It appeared live like it was clearly a foul, but I’ll have to look at the tape. I think he said he got hit in the face. Anytime you go up and try to make a play, did a great job running the floor, we did a great job passing it to him and I think he went in with his left hand but obviously they didn’t call it.”
Sunday marked Holtmann’s birthday. The Ohio State men’s basketball coach, who turned 47, celebrated in a big way with a rout of a visiting Purdue Fort Wayne team coached by a close friend in Coffman.
It was the only gift he wanted for his big day, friendship be damned.
“The older you get, we all would like, let’s just slide under the radar when you turn the clock another year,” Holtmann said after the game. “Those guys were great. They sang to me. Be glad many of them play basketball, but they sang to me in the locker room and that was fun.”
Happy Birthday, Coach @ChrisHoltmann pic.twitter.com/beTOAvnPfm— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) November 11, 2018
Holtmann said his players were incredulous that he didn’t tell them about the day.
“They kept saying to me, ‘Why didn’t you tell us it was your birthday?’ ” he said. “I said, ‘Fellas, you want me to announce it on Twitter or what? Just not what you do when you get older.’ All I was worried about and all I wanted today, I told my wife, all I wanted was a win. It was anxious. Every game’s anxious. I got up this morning and went for a long run, five-mile run, ran as fast as I could. I knew I was anxious. My pregame meal was basically a bag of cookies, so you could tell the anxiety that was going into this game here.”
“You guys are going to enjoy some good basketball this year. Chris has the Buckeyes playing really good defense right now. You play that kind of defense, you’re going to have a lot of success. I’ll attribute our lack of success in the second half to what Ohio State did today. They’re going to be a really, really good team. Defensively, you saw it against Cincinnati, who’s won 61 games in the last two years.” – Coffman
“Interesting games in terms of the halves being so different. They were a team watching them on tape that you knew could really get going. What we saw on video against UCLA I thought we’d definitely see a different team for an extended period of time and we did. I give them a lot of credit. Without Duane’s two threes late in the first half, it’s (basically) a tie game. Those two threes were critical in that stretch. That gave us some life.” – Holtmann