Even if the opponent caused some trepidation, coach Chris Holtmann knew that a message had to be sent to the newly ranked Buckeyes.
One day after ascending to No. 23 in the Associated Press poll, Ohio State was preparing to play Samford on Tuesday night when four-fifths of the starting lineup reported a little late for pregame preparations.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
The result: Holtmann shook up the lineup against the upset-minded Bulldogs. It would take a while, but the Buckeyes overcame their first halftime deficit of the season and rode a strong second half to a 68-50 win over Samford in front of 10,725 fans at Value City Arena.
“It was just a minor team infraction of being late that I felt like we needed to address,” Holtmann said. “We had talked about it here for the last week, the importance of that. I just felt like this was the response I needed to have. They’re great kids, we have great kids, awesome kids, they took it in stride and moved on.”
Freshmen Jaedon LeDee and Duane Washington made their first career starts, graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods made his first start for the Buckeyes (5-0), and sophomore Musa Jallow made his 11th career start. They replaced Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young, all of whom had started the first four games alongside C.J. Jackson.
It foreshadowed a rough night for the Buckeyes against Samford’s deliberate pace and zone defense — at least until the opening minutes of the second half.
Leading 32-29 at the break, Samford (5-1) doubled that advantage with a Brandon Austin three-pointer as the Buckeyes committed two turnovers and missed their first two shots of the half. Ohio State then went inside the Samford zone to find Kaleb Wesson for an easy bucket with 17:12 left, and that would prove to be the start of a massive run.
During the next 8½ minutes, Ohio State tied its offense to its defense, started getting stops and took control with a 21-3 run that flipped the game. It was sparked when Jackson leaped over the first row of courtside chairs to save a loose ball, leading to an Andre Wesson three-pointer to pull the Buckeyes within 35-34 and ignite the crowd.
“I felt like it got our crowd into it a lot,” said Woods, who had 14 points in a season-high 37:20 of playing time. “Then right after that, (Kaleb) got a charge, so they were electrified even more. That sparked our run.”
Young closed the run by scoring six of the final eight points, four of them on offensive rebounds, as Ohio State built a 50-38 lead that not even a ragged finish to the game could decimate.
Kaleb Wesson tied a career high with 19 points, giving him 37 in his past two games — the most he has scored in consecutive games.
Although the Buckeyes trailed for 18:54, Kaleb Wesson said they were never worried.
“Coach said it best: 'Don’t flinch,'” he said. “Stuff like that happens.”