In suffering its first loss, Ohio State still managed to get the ball into spots where its players could be effective on offense.
The fact that the Buckeyes shot a season-low 32.6 percent from the field and were limited to 62 points on Wednesday at Value City Arena had more to do with Syracuse’s length and explosiveness around the rim as it did the Orange’s zone defense.
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The bad news for Ohio State is that it will open Big Ten men’s basketball play Sunday night against a Minnesota team that could pose some of the same problems. The Golden Gophers lineup features players similar to Syracuse’s — namely, guys with impactful length who can pose matchup problems.
“This is one of the longest teams we’ll play,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “Their size is as similar to Syracuse as maybe any team we’ll play, but right now we’re not going to win the length game against hardly anybody we play. It’s what we’re trying to address in recruiting continuing to move forward, because that’s a battle we’re going to lose most times.”
It wasn’t a battle the Buckeyes won against the Orange. After averaging 18.7 points in his previous three games, sophomore center Kaleb Wesson shot 1 of 8 from the field. As a team, Ohio State shot only 37.5 percent from inside the three-point line as Syracuse challenged shots and was somehow credited with just three blocks.
Wesson’s frustration grew as the game progressed, but he said the game taught him a few things that should help against Minnesota.
“I’ve always struggled with not worrying about the defenders,” he said. “If someone is going to block my shot, they’re going to block my shot, but don’t worry about them blocking my shot. I was long jumping too much, jumping too far out instead of exploding (to the rim).”
The start of Big Ten play was a welcome change for the Buckeyes a year ago. Coming off a 1-2 performance in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon, and then a loss to Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Ohio State’s postseason hopes seemed dead in the water until they got to Wisconsin. There, Wesson put up a career-high 19 points in handing the Badgers an 83-58 loss, their worst at the Kohl Center.
At least this season, the Buckeyes won’t have to hold the pregame walkthrough for their conference opener on the roof of a parking garage like they did last year, when the arena wasn’t available and the team hotel didn’t have a ballroom of sufficient size. That forced Holtmann to get creative and take advantage of a mild weather day in Madison, much to the chagrin of his team.
“Our guys looked at me like I was crazy,” Holtmann said. “It wasn’t as cold as they acted like it was.”