WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — There is no doubt that Kaleb Wesson would have helped Ohio State against No. 14 Purdue on Saturday afternoon.
But when asked if the suspended sophomore would have been enough to account for a 35-point loss to the Boilermakers, coach Chris Holtmann quickly said no. Playing without their leading scorer and rebounder did the Buckeyes no favors, but more concerning was the manner in which they succumbed to a Purdue team focused on a Big Ten title.
“We have enough guys and enough talent in the locker room to accomplish the goals that we have,” senior C.J. Jackson said. “We just didn’t play hard enough today.”
With Wesson out indefinitely but expected to return before the end of the season and sophomore Kyle Young only available for limited minutes because of injury, Holtmann turned to freshman center Jaedon LeDee to start. Before the game, he spent time near the Ohio State bench getting pointers from student manager Greg Oden. During the national anthem, he stood next to Wesson, who also delivered advice.
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Ohio State’s starting lineup of Luther Muhammad, Justin Ahrens, Andre Wesson, Jackson and LeDee had not played together all season. LeDee finished with 16 points on 4-of-9 shooting and was 8 of 11 from the free-throw line, but 10 of his points came with the game decided after halftime.
“He’s a good offensive player,” Holtmann said of LeDee. “He’s got to figure out how to defend better. It’s not just Jae. He’s thrust into an environment that’s really difficult, but I really thought he played hard at times.”
The biggest difference between Wesson and the other Ohio State post players, he said, lies on the defensive end.
“Obviously, Kaleb’s a terrific player and we’ve built a lot of our offense around him. But when he’s playing well defensively, the gap between his defense and our other guys’ defense at that position is seismic,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s where I’m concerned (going forward).”
Purdue extended its defense and pressured Ohio State’s guards, helping hold the Buckeyes to 27.3 percent first-half shooting while the Boilermakers shot 57.6 percent.
Purdue coach Matt Painter said Wesson’s absence actually concerned him because “they played better offensively against us at their place without him.”