For a second time in as many seasons, the mention of a Purdue player sent Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann’s mind to the same Ohio State player — Kaleb Wesson.
Last year, his first with the Buckeyes, Holtmann drew a comparison to Boilermakers big man Caleb Swanigan and his back-to-the-basket game that was rooted in soft hands and solid footwork.
Monday, with the Buckeyes preparing to head to Michigan, it was junior guard Carsen Edwards, in connection with Purdue’s big Sunday home win against Michigan State.
“I have it on in the background and someone says, ‘Carsen Edwards has three points’ and they’re 20 minutes into the game or whatever and Purdue’s up 18,” Holtmann said. “That’s a guy who’s kind of figured out, ‘Teams are going to play us this way and I’ve got to adjust and my team will adjust with me.’ That’s what older, good players do.”
Edwards is on a short list for Big Ten player of the year. Wesson seemed on the verge of playing himself into that conversation, but a spell of recent offensive struggles in Big Ten play have tempered those thoughts.
Holtmann's point was that as the Buckeyes were snapping a five-game losing streak Saturday afternoon at Nebraska, they did so with Wesson scoring seven points. It was the third time in the past four games that Ohio State's offensive focal point was held to single digits as teams have consistently planned to double- or triple-team him and force other Buckeyes to beat them.
At Pinnacle Bank Arena, Wesson got off to a rough start. He played only 7:52 of the first half, sat for an extended period and had three turnovers. But it didn’t hold the Buckeyes back, and it didn’t mean he didn’t contribute to the win.
Wesson’s 11 rebounds were one shy of a season high, and his nine defensive boards, eight of which came in the second half, were a season high.
“He can’t get caught up in how his offensive points per game numbers are because he’s got to play the game the way his team needs him to,” Holtmann said. “What happened the other day was he had 11 rebounds. That was very important for us. He did a good job protecting the rim and set some good screens. We had a little bit better balance the other day. That’s what good players do. They find a way to impact the game in other ways.”
Against Purdue one game prior, Wesson was limited to a season-low 16 minutes due to foul trouble. He picked up three in the first half, never looked comfortable and made just one field goal while scoring six points. His absence forced the Buckeyes to go to smaller lineups with older-but-smaller brother Andre Wesson at center, and they outscored the Boilermakers over the course of the game with that lineup.
Graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods said the Buckeyes can play the same way regardless of whether or not Kaleb is in the game thanks to some offensive tweaks made during the last few weeks.
“Even with the smaller lineup, it works with Kaleb too,” he said. “With that offense that we’ve been running, Kaleb can also shoot so he can play inside-out when he wants to. When we’re moving the ball like that, at any given moment when we see him sealing, we have to give him the ball too like we did a few times at Nebraska. But with that lineup, yes, we are moving the ball a lot more and getting it side to side quicker and not always attacking on the first side.”
In six Big Ten games this calendar year, Wesson has averaged 4.0 fouls per game and fouled out twice. For the Buckeyes to pull off the upset Tuesday night at No. 5 Michigan, they will need him on the court — and it’s something Holtmann said the two discuss regularly.
“We have had on-the-regular conversations, both about that and the idea of foul issues that have come up through video and one-on-one video and team video,” he said. “He’s got to manage his frustration. Coach has to manage his frustration. That’s what we’ve got to do in those situations. And listen, when we foul, we admit it’s a foul. We’ve got to adjust and do better.”