As a diehard believer in Big Blue Nation, Chris Holtmann’s mother, Patty, holds a few Kentucky coaches dear to her heart. On the eve of High Point coming to Value City Arena, the second-year Ohio State men’s basketball coach said that list included the Panthers’ Tubby Smith, who in his first season with the Wildcats led them to the 1998 national championship.
Now four schools removed from that time, including a six-year run at Minnesota from 2008 to ’13, Smith made a one-day foray back into the Big Ten on Saturday. How did it go?
“Not good,” he said with a chuckle.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
Against a High Point team that Holtmann was convinced would provide a disciplined, well-coached final nonconference challenge, the No. 13 Buckeyes overcame a first-half lull, seized control by halftime and cruised to an 82-64 win against Smith’s Panthers.
At 12-1, it’s the best start in coach Chris Holtmann’s eight seasons as a Division I coach and the best for the Buckeyes since they won their first 15 games of the 2013-14 season. It also largely came about thanks to freshman guard Luther Muhammad, who scored a career-high 15 points, limited High Point leading scorer Jahaad Proctor to 4 points — well short of his 22.3 average — and helped Ohio State turn back a first-half Panthers run.
“It was just staying within the game, taking the right shots and doing what you do best,” Muhammad said. “Don’t try to be something you’re not. That’s just got to do with having confidence in yourself and your teammates having confidence in you as well as your coaches.”
Much like when the Buckeyes played Youngstown State 11 days before, it got ugly for a while. They led 14-6 only 5:09 into the game after Muhammad hit back-to-back deep threes from the same spot in front of the Panthers’ bench, but Ricky Madison started a 16-2 run when he hit a jumper with his foot on the line as the shot clock buzzed with 12:48 left.
It gave High Point (6-7) a 22-16 lead when Proctor scored on a layup with 7:04 to play as the Buckeyes missed 8 of 9 shots from the field, the front end of a one-and-one and turned it over twice. Holtmann was so incensed at a forced jumper that he punched the scorers’ table.
Kaleb Wesson, who swished seven straight three-pointers during pregame warmups, ended the run with a three from the top of the circle with 6:35 to play to make it a 22-19 deficit. Three possessions later, he hit another to reclaim the lead for good at 25-24 with 4:57 to play.
From there, order was restored. Ohio State went on a 21-6 run to close the half, during which the Buckeyes scored 13 straight points. By that point, Muhammad had already scored a career-high 14 points while the Panthers had nine players combine for their 13 field goals.
“Kaleb kind of gave us some life there with making a couple shots,” Holtmann said. “We’re going to have moments as a team where, if we think you’re going to go through games and teams aren’t going to make a run, that’s not who we are. Teams are going to make runs.”
C.J. Jackson scored 20 points, giving him back-to-back games of 20-plus-points for the first time, and Wesson added 17.