TULSA, Okla. — Musa Jallow is a perfectionist. There’s no other way to explain how a person can graduate high school a year early while compiling a 4.0 grade-point average.
It’s a credit to his tenacity, a trait that has helped make him one of Ohio State’s most intelligent players despite being 19. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t translate well to the basketball court, and it’s something coach Chris Holtmann has tried to guide him through during his sophomore season.
“I’ve probably said 50 times in practice, ‘Musa, keep playing, keep playing,’ ” Holtmann said Friday night. “He wants to do everything right and he can get frustrated.”
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All the work on that front paid off in a big way on the biggest stage of the season. In a first-round NCAA Tournament game, Jallow played the most complete and impactful game of his Ohio State career to help key a 62-59 upset win against No. 6 seed Iowa State in the Midwest Regional.
In 29:06 of playing time, Jallow finished with 11 points, six rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block while also helping bolster a stiff Ohio State defense with his overall versatility and length. And perhaps no play was greater than the one he made with less than three minutes remaining and Ohio State on top 55-54.
Matched up against Iowa State’s Marial Shayok, Jallow was near the top of the circle when Cyclones sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton tried to get the ball to Shayok only to have Jallow read the play, spring forward and pop it loose back toward the Ohio State basket. Racing up the court, he nabbed the ball before being fouled by Wigginton with 2:26 to play.
Graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods knocked down a three-pointer on the possession Jallow had earned the Buckeyes, and it proved to be enough breathing room.
“They pretty much ran that stagger screen all game, so after a while you kind of pick up on it and I just took it,” Jallow said.
After playing 20 minutes at Michigan State on Feb. 17, Jallow had amassed a total of 31 minutes in the next five games. Then, after playing 31 minutes in the regular-season finale against Wisconsin, Jallow saw 26 and 27 minutes as a starter in the Big Ten tournament against Indiana and Michigan State, respectively. Still, he entered the NCAA Tournament averaging 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14.5 minutes of playing time.
Asked if this was the best game of his Ohio State career, Jallow demurred, saying that’s not a determination for him to make. Asked if this was the kind of impact he’s always wanted to make, he said, “For sure. Definitely. It’s the tournament. It’s now or never. Play hard or go home.”