TULSA, Okla. — Ohio State knew what kind of basketball team it was heading into Sunday night’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against Houston. A 34-game body of work provides a pretty good blueprint of a team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they also had a pretty good idea of what kind of team the Cougars were, too. And as the game unfolded with a Sweet 16 berth on the line in the Midwest Regional, both scouting reports bore fruit.
Ohio State, a No. 11 seed, had advanced this far largely on the strength of pluck, grit and some of its best players playing their best with everything on the line.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter
It wouldn’t be enough against a Houston team that might have been even quicker, tougher and nastier than it looked on film.
“They may be a little faster than I thought, although we knew they were fast,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said roughly half an hour after the Cougars ended the Buckeyes’ season with a 74-59 defeat. “Their team quickness bothered us, and I think their collective athleticism bothered us a little bit. In a lot of ways they are who we thought they are: tough, a veteran group and athletic.”
Those attributes led to what graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods said were multiple scouting report “bugs.” The Buckeyes were prepared mentally for what they needed to do, he said, but just couldn’t execute the plans.
In getting to the second round, the Buckeyes fended off an Iowa State team that presented multiple offensive challenges but one that clearly had no answer for Kaleb Wesson in the paint. Against the Cyclones, Wesson anchored the attack and helped to dictate the game at the defensive end, finishing with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Houston kept rolling big men through the lineup and used its players' quickness to effectively trap him on most of his touches, resulting in Wesson taking just one of his seven shots from inside the three-point arc.
He drew 11 fouls, but it wasn’t enough to carry the offense.
“Credit to their defense and their preparation,” Wesson said. “They really work on their defense, and you can tell.”
Wesson still finished with 15 points, seven of which came from the free-throw line. Higher up the court, Woods blamed himself for the loss, saying he hadn’t lived up to his recent performances after averaging 15.4 points in his prior five games. Woods finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting and looked to wear down near the end, a notion he neither disputed nor completely agreed with.
“I didn’t play to my best potential, and I feel like if I play to my best potential we don’t lose that game, and that’s on both ends,” he said. “I put that on me, and I told them that if I played better on both ends, we win that game.”
His was among the longest faces inside a cramped, quiet locker room. In one corner sat senior walk-on Joey Lane, the towel he’s waved from the end of the bench for four years now used in vain to try and hide his tears. Further down the row was junior forward Andre Wesson, who, as many of his teammates gazed down at their phones, instead stared at his feet. A few feet to his left sat senior C.J. Jackson, who had moved past 1,000 career points with his first basket of the game and finished with a game-high 18 in his final game.
Jackson and the older Wesson joined the program at the same time, and the junior described the senior as among his best friends on the team save for his brother. Next season, Andre Wesson will be the lone senior.
“I’m incredibly proud of this team, maybe as much as any team I’ve ever coached,” Holtmann said. “We’ve had our rough days, but to be one of the final 32 teams standing, and I thought we competed tonight really well, we just couldn’t quite get it to where we needed to in the second half.”