Ohio State will be at full strength when it opens Big Ten tournament play in a game that could decide its NCAA Tournament fate.
After missing three games because of an unspecified violation of athletic department policy, sophomore center Kaleb Wesson has been reinstated and will play for the Buckeyes on Thursday against Indiana on the second day of the conference tournament.
Wesson, the team’s leading scorer (14.6 points per game) and rebounder (6.7 per game), has missed the games — all losses — as Ohio State has played itself to the brink of missing the NCAA Tournament.
The Buckeyes will head to Chicago after losing at the hands of Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin during which they were outscored 227-168.
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“It’ll be interesting to see after a bit of a layoff how quickly we can get back to playing when he’s at full strength and when our team’s at full strength,” coach Chris Holtmann said.
The Buckeyes scored 51 and 50 points in their losses to the Boilermakers and Wildcats, respectively, before closing with a flourish only to fall in overtime 73-67 to the Badgers on Sunday.
Throughout, the reasons for Wesson’s suspension have not been disclosed. But in announcing the suspension for a violation of athletic department policy, the Buckeyes also mentioned that he would return this season.
One day after the loss at Northwestern, Wesson went live on his Instagram page and, upon being asked by multiple viewers why he was suspended from the team, he said, “Some nuttiness. I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing.”
Monday, Wesson was also named honorable mention all-Big Ten as the team’s lone honoree.
While suspended, Wesson was permitted to travel with the team, sit on the bench during games and practice fully with the team. He also was charged with keeping up on his conditioning as much as possible, an ongoing challenge for the 6-9, 270-pound center.
“I don’t think we can expect too much, right?” Holtmann said. “We’ve got to be careful not to expect too much, but obviously it’s nice to have him back. It is a concern. Anytime you have a guy, if he’s off a couple days we’re worried about his conditioning, much less 14 days. Having said that, trust me, he has done early-morning workouts and afternoon workouts and sometimes twice-a-day conditioning and basketball workouts throughout this stretch.”
Earlier on the teleconference, Indiana coach Archie Miller said the Hoosiers were preparing for Wesson. With him on the court, the Buckeyes won 55-52 at Indiana on Feb. 10.
“When you take a player of that caliber off the floor, things obviously change,” Miller said. “We dealt with it all season long. One guy can make the world of difference, and he’s obviously a very big cog. They’re terrific on defense. They’re an NCAA Tournament team.”
The situation helped provide some learning experiences for the Buckeyes, some of which won’t be immediately applicable.
“There are probably larger lessons that all of us as a group have learned, and we’ll visit about that once our season is completed,” Holtmann said. “In terms of how our team performed and played and some lessons learned, as much as anything when you have a situation like this, your ability to move forward, and move forward quickly, as games come at you and forming a little bit of a different identity is really, really important.”
All-Big Ten teams announced
Michigan State junior guard Cassius Winston was named Big Ten player of the year as voted by the coaches and media, the league announced during an hour-long show on the Big Ten Network.
Winston was joined on the Big Ten’s first team by Maryland’s Bruno Fernando, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and a split between Penn State’s Lamar Stevens (coaches) and Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy (media). Purdue coach Matt Painter was named coach of the year.