TULSA, Okla. — He didn’t recite the numbers, and he didn’t need to. Slice it any way you want to, and Ohio State’s Luther Muhammad has been mired in a scoring slump that has now lasted more than one-third of the season.
That’s OK, though. In the cramped locker room for the Buckeyes at the BOK Center and on the verge of his first NCAA Tournament appearance, the freshman guard can feel himself on the cusp of turning things around.
“I’d say I’m maybe due for a good game,” he said Thursday evening. “I feel like I started hitting shots in the Big Ten tournament, so that’s put me on the right track leading into now. I feel like coming into this game I’m on the right track offensively.”
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There’s some recent data to back up his performance. Since a 20-point outburst in a win against Penn State on Feb. 7, Muhammad has failed to crack double figures in the last 11 games. During that stretch, he’s shot 17.5 percent (10 for 57) form the field and 21.9 percent (7 for 32) from three while playing his way out of the starting lineup.
In only three of those games has he made more than one field goal in a game. Two of them came in the Big Ten tournament, when he scored six points in a win against Indiana on 2-of-3 shooting and had seven points on 2-of-5 shooting the next day in a loss to Michigan State.
Perhaps more importantly, he looks more confident with his shot – not that confidence is something he’s ever professed to be lacking.
“It’s just staying with it,” Muhammad said. “That’s about it. I don’t ever lose confidence, because you’re going to miss shots. It’s going to happen. It’s part of the sport. You’ve just got to stay with it and they’re going to keep falling. I saw them go in against Indiana, I saw it go in against Michigan state, so that’s put me on the right track and let me know to keep playing with the same confidence and heart and keep trying to help my team the best way I can.”
Ready to launch
As a freshman last year, Kyle Young mostly bided his time at the end of the Ohio State bench behind senior Jae’Sean Tate and fourth-year junior Keita Bates-Diop. It was from there that Young only watched as the Buckeyes lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, then went to Boise, Idaho, for a pair of games in the NCAA Tournament.
Again, there, Young saw no playing time in the win against South Dakota State or the season-ending loss to Gonzaga. His first postseason experience came in this year’s Big Ten tournament, and Friday night will mark his NCAA Tournament debut.
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He’s ready to make the transition from postseason spectator to vital contributor for the Buckeyes.
“Super excited, going from freshman year to sophomore year and making a jump into that bigger role, it’s kind of similar,” he said. “I’m just excited for the postseason, excited to be in the NCAA Tournament again. I remember how good of an experience it was last year, even though I didn’t play. I’m excited to be a part of it and we’re ready to take advantage of it.”
Looking back, Young said it wasn’t too difficult to sit and watch last season.
“I was just trying to support my teammates and everyone that was playing ahead of me,” he said. “You just want to win as a team, and that makes everything so much better. I was just supporting those guys and hoping for a win.”
Like each of the eight teams on site, the Buckeyes took to the court for a practice Thursday evening that was open to the public. For 40 minutes, Ohio State’s players worked on some post moves, put up plenty of jumpers and finished with some free throws.
Video! The #Buckeyes shoot during open practice for the #NCAATournament. #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/hwCerZhXdz
— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) March 21, 2019
At the end, roughly a dozen fans gathered to catch some of the players and coaches for autographs as they headed off the court. Senior Joey Lane and student coach Greg Oden signed a stuffed Brutus Buckeye doll for one fan, and the duo along with sophomore Kaleb Wesson and Muhammad posed for photos with fans.
The team’s actual practice took place earlier in the day at nearby Oral Roberts University.
Limited no more
Wesson also saw limited postseason action last season for the Buckeyes, who often went to a smaller lineup with Bates-Diop at center to combat guard-oriented teams that would spread out their defense. Although he averaged 10.2 points as a freshman, Wesson played only seven minutes against South Dakota State and 12 against Gonzaga. He didn’t score in the first game and had three against the Zags.
Friday night, Iowa State will field a team that likes to spread opponents by playing with four guards and one post player. This year, it’s a situation the Buckeyes hope to flip to their advantage rather than pull their leading scorer and rebounder from the game.
“I feel like I’m very comfortable (against spread teams),” he said. “I’m very ready for this. During the week we’ve been practicing switching and staying in front of quicker guards like C.J. (Jackson) and CJ Walker, so I feel like I’m more comfortable going into this game.”
Arizona State arrived in Tulsa after a First Four win Wednesday night, but former Ohio State player Mickey Mitchell was not among the Sun Devils to make the trip. Mitchell, who transferred from Ohio State following his freshman season in 2015, played in six games for Arizona State before a back injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Coach Bobby Hurley said they hope to have him back eventually but that he didn’t make the trip with his teammates.
“Mickey was at our house on Sunday for the Selection Show party and he’s still a part of what we’re doing,” he said. “He’s had some setbacks with it and we’re trying to get him to a point where he’s 100 percent but he’s just had trouble getting there this year. He’s had a lot of wear and tear over the years, both playing basketball and football. We’re hopeful we get Mickey to 100 percent healthy and when we get there then we can focus on basketball.”
Jackson said the week in between games was good for his health but that his body “is as good as it’s going to be for the rest of the season.” He’s been dealing with injuries to his shoulder and ankle. … A quartet of former Buckeye standouts held court during the open practice. Standing together were director of player development Scoonie Penn, college basketball analyst Jim Jackson, associate director of compliance Jason Singleton and Oden. … Freshman Justin Ahrens said his parents were planning to see his first NCAA Tournament game Friday before heading to see Michigan State, where his older brother, Kyle, is a junior.
“I think you have an incredible appreciation. I’m really appreciative of our players and the fact that we had guys step into new roles and grow into new and increased roles and embrace that. Then you had a freshmen and new group including Keyshawn that blended in pretty seamlessly. We had our bumps. There’s no question, but we earned the right to be here and I do think the appreciation has been probably from Sunday on, but you also now that you’re here, you’re hungry to see how long we can be here.” — Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, asked for his thoughts on walking into the BOK Center on Thursday.