TULSA, Okla. — There are plenty of keys for Ohio State if it wants to spring the upset Friday night against Iowa State. The Buckeyes figure to lean heavily on sophomore center Kaleb Wesson to present a matchup problem for the Cyclones in the paint, and graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods will need to maintain the high level of production displayed in his last few appearances.
But at the other end of the court, and not nearly as glaring on the stat sheet, will be two players who ultimately might decide the game for Ohio State. Junior Andre Wesson and sophomore Musa Jallow, both forwards, are among the team’s two most versatile defenders and capable of guarding nearly every position on the court.
Against a guard-heavy Iowa State lineup that starts four who range from 6 feet 4 to 6-6, Wesson and Jallow represent Ohio State’s best chances to try and slow the Cyclones.
“I think Andre’s importance in terms of his versatility has been something that we’ve talked about dating back to the summer,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said Thursday evening. “I think Musa now has given us versatility defensively on the glass. In a game like this, with their size and length on the perimeter, we don’t have quite enough guys that have that versatility. It’s something we need to continue to add in recruiting, but there’s no question Musa’s going to be important and all of our guys.”
Wesson, at 6-6, has guarded every position this season and occasionally logged heavy minutes guarding opposing centers. The 6-foot-5 Jallow has been in and out of the lineup, but his recent solid defensive play has led to at least 26 minutes of playing time in the last three games leading into Friday night.
Iowa State projects to start guards Nick Weiler-Babb (6-5), Marial Shayok (6-6), Tyrese Haliburton (6-5) and Talen Horton-Tucker (6-4).
“They’ve got a lot of versatile pieces, so any time I can use my defensive ability and my versatility defensively I think it’s a big advantage,” said Wesson, who led the team in minutes played during Big Ten games. “They’re long, they’re athletic, but hopefully we can use that to our advantage (on offense) too with Kaleb (Wesson) and throwing it inside and using that.”
Jallow has made 11 starts this season but had played himself to the end of Holtmann’s rotation as the regular season neared its conclusion. With the Buckeyes desperately searching for offense, and freshman Justin Ahrens coming off a 29-point explosion against Iowa, Jallow went through a five-game stretch with 31 total minutes played that bottomed out with one minute of action at Northwestern in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Then, Jallow played 31 minutes against Wisconsin, 26 against Indiana and 27 against Michigan State. Offensively, he averages 2.6 points per game, but he’s likely to start again Friday against the Cyclones.
“There’s been a lot of ups and downs (this season),” he said. “What I’ve really learned is just try and be the same person every single day, try my best and just be ready for the opportunity whenever it presents itself. Yeah, it’s hard, but it’s something you’ve got to learn if you want to be in this business.”
And if the Buckeyes want to advance, they’re going to need the abilities brought by Andre Wesson and Jallow in order to combat the size advantage Iowa State will bring to the BOK Center.
“I would say they’re probably, if not the best offensive team we’ve played all year, they’re right up there with how they’re playing,” Holtmann said. “I think they may be the most explosive offensive team we’re playing.”