The most important thing to get out there following No. 15 Ohio State’s win against Bucknell is that Andre Wesson is fine.
When the junior forward went mouth-first into the court at Value City Arena early in the second half Saturday afternoon, he immediately started to kick the floor in obvious pain. Once play stopped, he was eventually helped to his feet and immediately taken into the locker room.
The news was gnarly: three missing teeth for the oldest Wesson brother. As postgame interviews were conducted, he was already at the dentist after having played with a protective mouthguard for the remainder of the game.
Once it was established that he was fine, a little levity was allowed. Younger brother Kaleb, who had a double-double with a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, was dismissive in a way only brothers can be.
“He’s going to be good,” he said. “Ain’t nothing wrong with him.”
So this wasn’t the first time he’d had teeth knocked out? The backyard battles between the brothers are the stuff of local legend.
“Oh, we’ve both lost teeth before,” he said. “He lost teeth at (Westerville) South. Oh yeah, he’s cool.”
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said his first concern, even as he realized what had happened, was about Andre Wesson’s well-being.
“Really at that point, I’m worried, does he have a concussion? How’s his neck?” Holtmann said. “At that point you go beyond the teeth, the cosmetic stuff that’s going to happen. It’s, ‘OK, does he have all his faculties, is he feeling OK?’ Once we figured that out, then we could look for the teeth.”
They didn’t have to look far for one of them.
“I thought it was one (tooth),” Holtmann said. “I didn’t know it was three. I thought it was one because I grabbed one of them on the floor when I was out there. I actually stepped on it, so I apologize for that. I grabbed it and gave it to Jeff (Deits, the athletic trainer).”
After going to the locker room, Andre Wesson returned to the game after missing 3:08 of action. He finished with a career-high nine rebounds and added four points and two assists in 28:23 and actually scored the first two baskets of the game for the Buckeyes. Both of them were assisted by his brother.
Holtmann lauded the fact that he came back into the game and played as much as he did.
“Andre Wesson’s a tough kid and he wanted to come back and play,” the coach said. “That’s why I love Andre as a kid. That’s why I love him. I’d go to war with that dude, go to battle with that dude any day because he competes on the defensive end and he’s got a real toughness to him. It’s one of the things I really love about him – both he and his brother are really tough kids.”
As further evidence of his affection for the junior, Holtmann offered the fact that he picked up his whole tooth off the court.
“I’m a bit of a germophobe, so that shows how much affection I have for Andre,” he said.
Bucknell flipped a game that felt like it could’ve gotten out of hand by putting a significant run on the Buckeyes to close the first half. It’s become a common theme for Ohio State as of late.
On Dec. 2 against Minnesota, the Buckeyes allowed a 9-3 run by the Golden Gophers to make it a 39-28 lead at the half. Three days later against Illinois at Chicago’s United Center, the Fighting Illini closed on a 22-10 run to take a 38-34 lead at the break.
Today, Ohio State led 37-25 with 4:04 left in the half after a Kaleb Wesson layup before everything went sideways.
Starting with a Kimbal Mackenzie three-pointer, the Bison hit their final six shots of the half – three of which were three-pointers – to put together a stunning, 15-0 run. It gave Bucknell its first lead of the game at 40-37 when Jimmy Sotos hit a three-pointer over Woods with 36 seconds remaining, and Woods answered with a jumper at the other end to set the halftime score at 40-39. It ended a scoring drought of 3:58 for the Buckeyes wherein they missed four field goals and two free throws and had two turnovers.
The Buckeyes trailed despite shooting 58.6 percent from the floor, assisting on 10 of their 17 field goals and holding a 10-2 advantage in second-chance points. Bucknell, which entered the game getting 37.3 percent of its points from three-point range to rank No. 62 nationally, got 67.5 percent of them from deep during the first half while going 9 for 17.
“I think it’s halves, period,” Kaleb Wesson said. “I feel like toward the end of halves we either get passive or we’re just trying to close it out to where we’re trying to get to the halftime or to the end of the game. I feel like we need to stay more aggressive going into halftime and going into the end of the game.”
It was more of the same to close the game. Ohio State led 69-58 with 4:28 left and needed a defensive stop on the last possession to win. From that point, Ohio State missed all three field goals, turned it over twice and went 4 for 7 from the line while missing the front end of a one-and-one.
Holtmann blamed himself.
“I have to do a better job of getting our guys to close out games,” he said. “It’s a little bit tricky when you’re up and the other team is throwing in shots, but I have to do a better job of getting our guys to finish games better – not just free throws, but offensive possessions. That’s one me. That’s my responsibility, and I don’t think I did a very good job of that up to this point.”
It came after what had been a significant run for the Buckeyes. Ohio State built the 10-point lead with a 28-10 run that started with a Luther Muhammad jumper with 17:05 to play and was buoyed by a pair of plays: Andre Wesson getting his teeth knocked out, and Musa Jallow being called for a foul while trying to block a dunk attempt by 6-foot-9, 245-pount Nate Sestina.
“We didn’t think it wsa a foul, but because he went up there and challenged the big man, in our eyes it was a block,” Keyshawn Woods said. “Also, Dre went down as well with his teeth. All that factored into that run.”
This was the first time Ohio State had played Bucknell since 1986 and only the second-ever meeting between the programs, but there was some familiarity on the Buckeyes bench.
Two years at Wake Forest, Woods scored a game-high 22 points in a 94-74 win against the Bison on Nov. 13, 2016. Two games later, Bucknell went to Butler, where Holtmann led the Bulldogs to an 86-60 win.
“I knew some of the players from when I played them at Wake,” Woods said.
It wasn’t necessarily that Ohio State did a better job of contesting the three-point line that led to a precipitous drop-off in Bucknell’s perimeter shooting after halftime.
It was more to do with the team’s overall defensive approach.
“We were pressuring the ball more,” Woods said. “We put more pressure on the ball so they couldn’t make pinpoint passes like how they were in the first half. Pressure on the ball and everybody rotating and actually closing out, it kind of stopped their rhythm a little bit.”
That was a major halftime talking point, Holtmann said. Bucknell was 3 for 13 in the second half after hitting 9 of 17 in the first.
“(Our ball pressure) was lacking for the full 20 minutes, and it was a major point of emphasis at halftime,” the coach said. “I just didn’t think our effort was good enough and our activity was good enough. We said to them going in, if they don’t’ feel us, it’s going to be a long night. They’ve got five guys in their lineup that are going to shoot threes, and if they get on a roll and start making threes it’s going to be a long night for us. Their best shooter only made one. Overall, that’s just an area we have to get better in, but our ball pressure was much better.”
Bucknell coach Nathan Davis said he noticed a difference.
“I thought in the first half we made some tough shots,” he said. “I thought they did a good job. They picked up the pressure. They don’t get out and deny but they do pressure the ball. At times we over-dribbled some and were late getting the ball back, so we shot some more contested shots because of that.”
When Bucknell got the ball with 14 seconds left, the Ohio State staff flashed back to a play they had scouted. It came against St. Bonaventure in Bucknell’s season-opening game, an 88-85 overtime win that was sent into overtime by a late shot.
Mike Netti, Ohio State assistant to the head coach, had gone over the situation with Holtmann.
“I thought that’s the one possession that we had good attention to detail,” he said. “We have a guy on our staff that studies end-of-game situations for the opposition. He and I review it before the game. I think they ran something similar to what we anticipated they would run and our guys did a really good job sniffing it out. I didn’t know if they were going to go for a three or a two there, but the ball got bobbled and we were able to close it out.”
Davis made no doubt – they were going for the win.
“Give (Ohio State) a lot of credit,” he said. “It’s something we do a lot at the end of games to get shots. We tried to change it around to get Kimbal (Mackenzie) on the backside corner. It’s a play where we’re going to refuse a ball screen and then have the guy who set the screen turn around and screen the shooter and come in behind him and then on the backside we’ve got another flare for a shooter going to the corner. They clearly had seen it, because they jumped it. We had scored against St. Bonaventure to tie the game and send it to overtime on the same play, but (Ohio State’s) guard jumped it and we couldn’t get to the baseline.
“Kimbal was open in the back corner if we could’ve got it there.”
“I studied a couple years ago the anatomy of an upset and the anatomy of losing a lead and it’s a lot of things. It’s offensive rebounds, it’s turnovers, it’s threes. If you can eliminate two of those three things you’re probably going to be OK. We just had too many empty possessions. That’s my fault. We have to teach that better and practice that better.” – Holtmann