The particulars of how the Ohio State men’s basketball team comported itself during the first half against Youngtown State are certainly surprising. Anytime a team shoots that poorly against a team ranked that low, especially when the brick-laying team is ranked 15th in the nation, it’s going to be a surprise. 

But the biggest surprise for the Buckeyes tonight wasn’t really that they shot a brutal 24.1 percent during the first half, or that they trailed going into the break, or that they seemed to have no idea whom to look for at the offensive end. 

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The biggest surprise is that it took this long to have a half like this. Think back to what was being said and written about the Buckeyes when the season started:

How were they going to replace Keita Bates-Diop’s offensive production?

What about Jae’Sean Tate’s?

Where is the offense going to come from?

Much of what coach Chris Holtmann said during media day and throughout the preseason was that this was an Ohio State team that was going to have to significantly rely on its defense to carry things because there were almost certainly going to be lulls where baskets were going to be hard to come by. Then the Buckeyes won their first six games, hitting at least 89 points in three of them, and suddenly the offensive questions were fading into the background.

Then Tuesday night happened. The numbers are shocking, given that they were put up against a team ranked No. 322 nationally by KenPom.com. The Penguins came to Value City Arena as the second-worst team on Ohio State’s schedule, and they became the third straight team to take a lead into the break against the Buckeyes, who trailed 25-22 after going 7 for 29 (24.1 percent) from the floor and 1 for 11 (9.1 percent) from three.

It wasn’t pretty. The feeling from the 12,637 fans on hand was one of growing, quiet concern as the Buckeyes missed open three-pointers, point-blank layups and just about everything else in between. Defensively, they did hold the Penguins to 33.3 percent shooting (11 for 33), so they didn’t tie their offensive struggles to the other end of the court.

So isn’t this what we thought we might see from the Buckeyes this season?

“A little bit,” Holtmann said. “I think I expected that, but we’ve got to get it fixed and we’ve got to figure out how we need to play and we’ve got to do that way more consistently than what we’re doing right now.”

The second half was a decidedly different story, mostly thanks to Kaleb Wesson. Ohio State was 19 for 27 (70.4 percent) from the floor in the final 20 minutes, marking their best-shooting half since they torched Wisconsin to the tune of 78.3 percent in jumping out to a 49-26 lead at the Kohl Center last season.

This time, Holtmann said the shots the Buckeyes got for the final 5-7 minutes were more to his liking but they just didn’t fall.

“I liked some of the shots we were getting,” Holtmann said. “They were playing really slow, and that’s fine. They were controlling the tempo and that’s a decision they made. I give them credit for doing that. I thought we were rushed offensively. We tried to attack in transition. We had some good looks, but I did not feel like we imposed ourselves at all offensively in the first half. I thought we just didn’t play with purpose, and that’s players, coaches, that’s all of us.”

Holtmann described it as “frustrating” as the half continued. Adding to the situation was Youngstown State consistently holding the ball until deep into the shot clock, helping to limit opportunities.

“I thought they really controlled the tempo in the first half,” he said. “They had not played that way up until this point. Give them credit, but we have a really long way to go. I’m certainly concerned. I can’t say I didn’t expect that we would have some moments where we look like we didn’t have a great understanding of how we need to play given the number of new pieces that ewe have, but we had a lot of moments like that in the game. Our first half was awful offensively.”

Career night

Saturday afternoon against Bucknell, Wesson set a new career high with 22 points. Tuesday night, he topped that total in the second half alone as Wesson scored 26 points after halftime to finish with 31, the most for an Ohio State player since Bates-Diop put up 35 against Illinois on Feb. 4, 2018. He’s the first Buckeye to top 25 points in a half since D’Angelo Russell had 25 against Minnesota on Jan. 6, 2015.

Pretty good company, and it took some to get him to that output.

“It feels good,” Wesson said. “My teammates got me in the right spots. I think my teammates just helped a lot. They draw more attention and that helps me playing on-one-one basketball. It’s hard to guard one-on-one.”

It’s a pretty standard answer from the soft-spoken big man, one he’s used on multiple occasions this season. Holtmann, though, credited the rest of the team for continually feeding Wesson.

“I’m really proud of our group in the second half because they were fully committed to playing through him,” he said. “Not everybody we play plays like that where it’s single coverage and they’re playing kind of behind. Our team was really committed to finding him in the second half and everybody that played deserves credit for that.”

In the second half alone, Wesson drew 10 fouls, was 8 for 8 from the floor and 10 of 11 from the free-throw line. His personal 7-0 run early in the half gave the Buckeyes their first lead, and when he was subbed out with 2:02 to play he received a deserved standing ovation.

It took some motivation to get him there, apparently. Wesson said he had to get chewed out before he turned it up.

Who delivered the extra verbal incentive?

“Oh, everybody,” he said. “One through 12 and the coaches.”

Notes

*While Kaleb drew the majority of the attention and the headlines, senior guard C.J. Jackson quietly flirted with a triple-double. Jackson finished with 11 points, had a season-high seven assists and added seven rebounds in the win.

All of his assists came in the second half. As a team, the Buckeyes had 17 assists and a season-low eight turnovers.

“I thought the best thing we did tonight was we had 17 assists and 8 turnovers,” Holtmann said.

*Sophomore forward Kyle Young played only 15 minutes for the game and just 2:30 during the second half. He took a hard fall during the first half on an attempted alley-oop off a backdoor cut and stayed in the game, airballing the first subsequent free throw before nailing the second one. He spent some time riding a stationary bike near the team bench.

*This was the closest of the five Youngstown State games in Ohio State history. The previous closest margin of victory was 28 points when the Buckeyes won, 81-53, on Dec. 16, 1982.

*The Penguins are 0-19 all-time against the Big Ten.

*Ohio State is now 10-2 under Holtmann when playing as a ranked team at home against an unranked team.

Fans

An Ohio native who was on the coaching staff at West Virginia earlier in his career, Youngstown State coach Jarrod Calhoun said he has three favorite teams: the Penguins, the Mountaineers and the Buckeyes. As such, he weighed in on the Ohio State football team going to the Rose Bowl.

“We’re happy to be done with the money games,” he said. “I would love to play Ohio State every other year. We’ve got a lot of alumni that were here tonight. Ohio State’s one of my favorite teams. Aside from Youngstown State and West Virginia, I like these guys. I like coach (Ryan) Pedon. Obviously I’m a diehard football fan and we’ve got one more game to send coach (Urban) Meyer out on top.”

Busted

Wesson missed a few minutes during the second half to get some attention in the locker room for a busted lip that required a stitch to close. It came one game after his older brother, Andre, lost two teeth and had a third chipped while diving for a loose ball.

Was he trying to upstage his younger brother? He chuckled at the question.

“The dude was coming down from a jump shot and just caught me with an elbow on the lip and it just went right through,” he said.

Ohio State had tweeted a photo of a smiling Andre Wesson from its official team Twitter account, but that has since been deleted.

Quotable

“I think our effort still needs to get better, but this game was much different. We lacked more purpose in this game than any game we’ve played all year in the first half. In the Bucknell game, I actually thought we played with some purpose. We just didn’t always play really detailed defensively. That was what I came out of that game saying, we have to be much more detailed defensively than what we were. In this game I keep coming back to we’ve got to play with a better idea of what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively.” – Holtmann, asked to compare this game to the Bucknell win.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy