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 only being 19 years old. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t translate well to the basketball court, and it’s something Buckeyes 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.”
Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
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 back on top, 55-54.
>>Download the NCAA tournament bracket
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 would prove 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.
It was a massive overall impact from a player who, not more than a few weeks ago, looked to have played himself out of Holtmann’s rotation. After playing 20 minutes at Michigan State on Feb. 17, Jallow had amassed a total of 31 minutes in the next five games, bottoming out with one minute in a deflating road loss to Northwestern on March 6 as the Buckeyes floundered with leading scorer and rebounder Kaleb Wesson suspended for the final three games of the regular season.
“We had a stretch there where we were struggling scoring without Kaleb, but we were also struggling stopping some of the oppositions’ wings,” Holtmann said. “Justin (Ahrens) gave us some offense, but I was trying to figure that out as a coach. I said Musa can help us in terms of rebounding, defending the wings.”
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.
“We all know that we work extremely hard all year to be here, so just to know that our work is paying off is a pretty good feeling,” he said after the game.
It wasn’t a perfect performance. Jallow had a team-high three turnovers, two of which came during a three-minute span early in the second half. He atoned for both, however, recording an impressive block immediately after the first and grabbing the defensive rebound after the second.
“Huge,” Holtmann said of those two plays. “Boy did he keep playing. We’re seeing glimpses where his athleticism becomes more apparent. That’s what we’ve been fighting to see all year is him use his athleticism.”
Asked if this was his best game in 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.”
Senior guard C.J. Jackson cited Jallow for his impact in the win.
“I’m just happy for him,” he said. “He’s been working so hard. I know he gets up at the crack of dawn to work on his game, so when you see it finally come to light, especially in an environment like this at a time of year like this, I’m just happy for him. He adds a lot to the team: rebounding, defending the best player, just a lot. His size, that can be a problem for defenders.”
Just as impressive was his finish on an alley-oop dunk in transition on a lob thrown by Woods with 14:02 to play.
“It was pretty good,” Jallow said with a smile. “I don’t really get oops like that, so it was fun.”