At the end of the day, there wasn’t a lot to get upset about as No. 13 Ohio State beat High Point 82-64 on Saturday afternoon at Value City Arena.
The visiting Panthers put together a first-half run where the Buckeyes looked out of sorts, but it didn’t last. Ohio State recovered, took a nine-point lead into the break and scored on the first six possessions of the second half to break the game open. The Buckeyes end the non-conference portion of their schedule at 10-1 and, factoring in two early Big Ten games, will be 12-1 when Michigan State comes to town January 5.
And yet, there were by my count three times that coach Chris Holtmann punched or slapped the scorers’ table. One came during the run by High Point, which will be addressed in a moment. The other two were at various points and in less dramatic moments.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
First, Holtmann opened his postgame thoughts with the following.
“We have a lot to improve on,” he said. “Having said that, I think there were some good moments today and I’m pleased with some of the growth I thought we had today. But listen: we’ve got a long ways to go. We’re going to get knocked around and beat around and go through some really difficult stuff in Big Ten play. We’ll see how we survive through all that.”
So what led to the frustration? I pointed out the table blows.
“Oh jeeze,” he said. “I’ve got to do better with that.”
>> Video: Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann after beating High Point
Then after pointing out how High Point came back from a 10-point deficit to be Valparaiso and came back at East Carolina to win there, too, Holtmann continued.
“I was just trying to get our guys to continue to play the right way,” he said. “Our attention to detail has to get better, and that was probably some of why I reacted the way that I did. We had a couple defensive errors in scouting that can’t happen as we move forward. We have to do a better job as coaching making sure we understand we can’t have those errors after we’ve covered it day after day.
“Either we’re not making it clear enough or I’ve got to look to play somebody else. Having said that, I thought our guys had much better purpose than we did in the Youngstown State game.”
It was some interesting insight into what was otherwise largely a humdrum game for the Buckeyes. He’s right, too, about the Youngstown State game. Eleven days prior, the Penguins held a 25-22 halftime lead before Kaleb Wesson blew things open by scoring 26 of his career-high 31 points during the second half in what became a 75-56 win.
Against High Point, Ohio State held a 14-6 lead with 14:41 to go in the first but trailed by a game-high six points at 22-16 with 7:02 left as the visitors made some shots and the Buckeyes didn’t. Wesson hit two threes in quick succession and order was eventually restored.
What happened for that seven-minute stretch?
“I just feel like we need to stay locked in for the whole game,” freshman Luther Muhammad said. “Sometimes we lose the intensity. We need to keep the intensity we come out with for the whole game.”
“It starts in practice really, focusing on sustaining that energy for the whole practice and trying to carry it over to the game and put a full 40 minutes together,” junior forward Andre Wesson said.
Holtmann said Ohio State playing with “much better purpose” helped it shake off the High Point run.
“We have to respond, making the right play and sometimes it’s about making and missing some shots,” he said. “We missed a few shots. They made a few shots. Our shot quality during that stretch wasn’t always the best and that’s where we’ve got to improve, but we had some open looks too that we just missed. Kaleb gave us some life there with making a couple threes.”
When he went mouth-first onto the floor at Value City Arena against Bucknell on Dec. 15, Andre Wesson wound up losing two of his front teeth and cracking a third. He returned to the game in short order, underwent two different dental appointments and hasn’t missed a beat on the court.
He felt an emotion as he dealt with the injury, but it wasn’t fear.
“It’s happened before,” he said Saturday after scoring 10 points, grabbing nine rebounds and adding four assists. “It happened in high school so I kind of knew what was going to happen and what was going on. I wasn’t really scared, more so a little mad that it happened again.”
Friday, younger brother Kaleb said Andre couldn’t eat everything he wanted to while home for Christmas earlier in the week. Against High Point, the older brother took several hard shots while either driving for baskets or diving after loose balls but came away no worse for the wear.
Holtmann said that’s been par for the course for the junior. Andre Wesson getting banged up in a game is “more consistent than our play.
“He got popped the other day by his brother on a, Kaleb said it was a dunk but he laid it in and pulled the rim down. Dre was trying to block it and he got stitches in his eye. It’s who he is, Andre, and it’s who Kaleb is. They just naturally physical players, which personally I like as a coach. I’d much have that than a guy you’re constantly challenging to be more physical.”
Sprinting to the forefront
Muhammad finished with a career-high 15 points in part because he hit a career-high three three-pointers. He also helped hold High Point leading scorer Jahaad Proctor in check. The junior guard entered the game averaging 22.3 points per game but only had four on 2-of-9 shooting against the Buckeyes as Muhammad helped harass him for much of the game.
It was another strong performance from the freshman. Holtmann has been asked often about Muhammad’s intensity and early impact, but it turns out that he’s been turning heads since his first sprint in camp.
“The one thing about Luther that helps him right now is he’s our most-conditioned player and that’s typically atypical of a freshman,” Holtmann said. “One thing you’re trying to get freshmen to do is play harder than they’ve ever played in their entire life because of the level. Well here you have a freshmen who’s led pretty much every sprint in conditioning from day one and has shown a consistency from conditioning on in practice so it allows him to just play at the pace that you need him to play.”
Although Muhammad missed one game with a dislocated shoulder, his 344 minutes of playing time are fourth-most on the team and significantly ahead of classmates Duane Washington Jr. (237), Jaedon LeDee (75) and Justin Ahrens (38).
“Most freshmen you’re challenging them to play harder,” Holtmann said. “We’ve got to make more effort plays. And we’re still challenging him. By no means is he perfect in that area, but his threshold, his conditioning allows him to do that a little better.
Big Ten play looms
After the Youngstown State game, Andre Wesson said the Buckeyes set a reasonable goal for the remainder of their non-conference slate.
“A goal that we had going into these last two non-conference games was finishing the non-conference 10-1, so we’re glad that we did that,” he said. “Now it’s the fun part, playing in the Big Ten and competing against other good teams.”
The 12-1 start is the best for a Holtmann-coached team and Ohio State’s best since a 15-0 start to the 2013-14 season. Now the Buckeyes will resume Big Ten play in a conference judged to be one of the top two in the nation this season by nearly every available ranking method.
Holtmann was asked what his team needs to improve upon for conference play.
“Our ability to concentrate and understand in Big Ten play it’s a possession-by-possession game,” he said. “I think we have to continue to play harder longer and more physical longer. I think our attention to detail has to really improve on both ends. There’s a lot. And then we need more from various guys on our bench and that happens in practice where you start seeing that. We need a little bit more from some guys on that end.”
High Point coach Tubby Smith, who coached at Minnesota for six seasons and drops to 3-9 against Ohio State in his career, said he highly rates the Big Ten this season.
“I know it’s been as good as any (this year),” he said. “When I was in the SEC we were getting 6 or 7 teams in the NCAA Tournament and now the Big Ten is at that point where, what are they at, 14 teams now? They’ll get 8-9, like the ACC. I’d say those two are about the two premier leagues in the country. It’s going to be competitive in this league and I think Ohio State will be in the hunt.”
“It’s good to be back at Ohio State. This is one of the premier basketball programs in America year-in and year-out. Chris will have them in the hunt for the Big Ten championship. I like his squad. They’ve got good balance. The depth, his guys that came into the game did some good things. It wasn’t much fun. It’s never fun losing, but it’s good to be back here.” – Smith, on returning to the Big Ten