There were a number of reasons why Kaleb Wesson was able to be as effective as he had been in a month. In a dominant, 27-point performance against Rutgers on Saturday, the sophomore center for the Ohio State men’s basketball team feasted on single coverage, avoided careless fouls by being clean with his hands and stretched the defense by knocking down shots from the perimeter.
Those are all reasons for Wesson’s game, but the cause was born out of a month that challenged Wesson and the Buckeyes equally.
“It’s been rough, but I just had to calm myself down, control what I can control,” he said Saturday. “I’m a competitor, so when things happen and I have to get taken off the floor I get emotional. I want to be out there with my guys, so when stuff like that happens I have to take a step back.”Join the conversation at Facebook.com/groups/BuckeyeXtraFans and connect with us on Twitter @BuckeyeXtra
A month’s worth of those moments seemed to boil over for Wesson last Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the Buckeyes took a 65-49 loss to the Wolverines. With 8:05 to play, Wesson and teammate Keyshawn Woods, along with two Michigan players, were all whistled for technical fouls for their roles in an on-court skirmish that saw Michigan’s Jon Teske put his hands on Wesson.
Wesson wouldn’t return during the game, which was Ohio State’s lowest-scoring game since it scored 48 points in a loss at Wisconsin on March 8, 2015. He finished with four fouls, marking his seventh straight game in which he had been called for at least three.
It’s a topic Wesson and coach Chris Holtmann have discussed – repeatedly, it seems.
“There’s been some honest conversations, but I love guys who want to get better and Kaleb wants to get better,” Holtmann said. “He wants to be coached. I love that about him. It’s not to say we don’t have some of our moments, but I love that about him.”
The theme of those conversations has been one of patience. Against the Scarlet Knights, Wesson said he was trying to show his hands more and not pick up reaching fouls.
It’s an ongoing process, Holtmann said, and it’s not a new one for Wesson.
“I’ve never been one to stay out of foul trouble,” he said. “I’ve always been bigger than everybody, more physical, so I’ve always been in foul trouble. Sometimes, you think it’s Big Ten basketball and think I’m getting horrible calls, but you’ve got to take a step back, see what the refs are seeing. You’ve got to watch a lot of film.”
Offensively, Wesson looked more decisive against Rutgers. He hit consecutive three-pointers early, something Scarlet Knights coach Steve Pikiell said made it impossible for them to try and double the big man. Holtmann said the staff has been working with Wesson on picking his first move and going with it, noting that teams aren’t going for his second or third moves, allowing them to wall him up and take advantage of his lack of overall explosiveness.
That, too, has been a process.
“He needs to post to score and be decisive in his move and he did a great job of that today,” Holtmann said.
Now the challenge is to build off Saturday’s success. Penn State, which swept the Buckeyes in three games last season, comes to Value City Arena on Thursday night. Wesson scored 22 points in those three games and suffered an ankle injury early in one of them.
It’ll likely be another physical game, which means another test of how far Wesson has or hasn’t come when it comes to remaining calm on the court.
“I’m not a calm guy,” he said. “I talk a lot. I’m a competitor. When things happen, my first reaction is to react. I have to stay mellow. The refs see that, they get a little antsy, so I’ve got to stay down.”