The beauty of freshmen is they don’t know what they don’t know. Nothing fazes the neophytes, who play with reckless freedom, not yet grasping the fullness of what it means to fail.
Ohio State’s four freshmen — guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. and forwards Justin Ahrens and Jaedon LeDee — sometimes run the court like 4-year-olds who located and emptied the candy jar. The enthusiasm is refreshing, especially during semi-comebacks such as Wednesday night's at Value City Arena, where the Buckeyes rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to pull within two of Purdue and still trailed by only five with 2:01 left before the Boilermakers closed out a 79-67 win.Join the conversation at Facebook.com/BuckeyeXtra and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
But the beauty also is the beast, because what freshmen don’t know contributes to their failure, which hurts the team. It is a conundrum that Ohio State men’s basketball cannot escape until more lessons are learned.
With the Buckeyes having lost five in a row — for the first time since the 1997-98 team lost 17 straight — the new rallying cry is “Hurry up and learn.”
Getting up to speed is no snap of the fingers, especially not this season, when the freshmen are feeling their way with teammates who are not old hands themselves. Beyond senior point guard C.J. Jackson, who became a starter toward the end of his sophomore season, and graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods, the roster lacks skillful man hours.
And it shows. The freshmen gave it a go against Purdue, but the young talent has yet to truly blossom. Muhammad, Ahrens and Washington, who started in place of Woods, too often were a step out of place or loose with the ball. (That said, veteran Jackson led all Buckeyes with five turnovers.)
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has explained that freshmen take time. And patience.
“All the freshmen are continuing to learn what’s a play you can make at this level and what can you not get away with,” Holtmann said. “Some of that has resulted in blocked shots or turnovers or a poorly missed shot. And there’s not a better teacher than experience. We try to show them in film that this is not a play you’re going to be able to make at this level right now.”
There’s the rub. Someone on this team has to make a play. The Buckeyes showed flashes against the Boilermakers — Andre Wesson scored a career-high 22 points operating as the 6-foot-6 “big man” in OSU’s Mini-Me offense — but at the end of the day, it is about sustainability. With center Kaleb Wesson living in foul trouble — it happened again against Purdue; he fouled out with 4:43 left — Ohio State has to find a go-to guy who can consistently score from outside.
“We cannot be one-dimensional and win,” Holtmann has said about 100 times since arriving last season.
That proved correct against Purdue, but in a different way than usual. Instead of relying on Kaleb Wesson, who finished with five points, the Buckeyes got back in the game with outside shooting. Andre Wesson was 9-of-10 overall and 4 of 5 from three-point range. Musa Jallow had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
“With me at the five, I thought we played pretty well,” Andre Wesson said of playing in the post. “But anytime you lose five straight, it sucks, especially this one. It hurts.”
Was Wednesday’s improved shooting a one-off or a spark that could ignite something bigger? We’re about to find out. The Buckeyes go to Nebraska and then Michigan.
The freshmen need to keep growing. And more minutes might help. I expect Holtmann thinks so, too.