For most of the season, Ohio State has gone as far as Kaleb Wesson’s broad shoulders have been able to carry it.
On Saturday at No. 12 Purdue, the Buckeyes will have to try to find another way. After what felt like a season-defining, 20-point win over No. 22 Iowa on Tuesday that might have secured an NCAA Tournament spot, Ohio State will bring Wesson to Purdue but won’t let him play as the sophomore will sit out for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy.
The news, announced Friday, means an Ohio State team already short-handed in the lane will have to grapple with 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms and 6-9 Trevion Williams while missing its leading scorer, rebounder and rim protector.
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Wesson is expected to return this season, although when is not known.
“As much as we can, we’re trying to keep it a private matter,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “Obviously, there’s some expectations that we have that he needs to meet, and that he needs to follow through on, and he’ll do that. I’m confident that he’ll do that, and we’ll take it from there.”
Holtmann said the decision on Wesson’s return will be collaborative with the athletic department but that he holds the ability to extend the suspension. Holtmann said he will decide whether Wesson will be allowed to travel with the team. He also said that Wesson will not be held out of practice or prevented from making a weekend trip that wouldn’t interfere with classes.
Graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods, the oldest player on the roster, said Wesson has addressed the team about his situation and that as a group, “we all understand.” The Buckeyes practiced Thursday with Wesson but began planning how they would play without him at Purdue.
“It impacts us a lot,” Woods said. “He’s our leading scorer and leading rebounder, but we’re just going to have to continue to keep going, try to keep this train running without him. He’s going to be there supporting us.”
His absence is significant. Wesson has averaged 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds and was named Big Ten player of the week for the first time in his career this season.
It is the second suspension of his career after he sat out the Texas Southern game as a freshman for being tardy to team meetings. Earlier this season, he was one of four players removed from the starting lineup for being late to pregame preparations for Samford.
Against Purdue on Jan. 23, Wesson was limited to six points in 16 minutes and eventually fouled out. Ohio State’s most-used lineup in that game consisted of guards C.J. Jackson and Luther Muhammad and forwards Justin Ahrens, Musa Jallow and Andre Wesson. That lineup played 11:09, scored 22 points and allowed 21, and the Buckeyes lost by 12 points..
Ohio State will have to use combinations of smaller lineups with sophomore Kyle Young playing limited minutes while still recovering from a stress fracture to his lower right leg and freshman Jaedon LeDee a healthy scratch in three of the last five games.
“We’re not going to play 40 minutes of small ball,” Holtmann said. “It really impacts your defense and your rebounding. Kaleb was the one guy who had positional size and length within our group.”