No. 16 Ohio State rode a fast start to a blowout home win against No. 10 Villanova.
It was the kind of start coaches dream of and seldom see in person.
Before many of the 16,419 in attendance at Value City Arena had even settled in, No. 16 Ohio State had charged out to a 9-0 lead against No. 10 Villanova on Wednesday night. After the Buckeyes opened with consecutive three-pointers from Duane Washington Jr. and another by CJ Walker, Wildcats coach Jay Wright quickly burned a timeout to try and settle his team.
It didn't work. Ohio State pushed its lead to 19-3 out of that timeout and Villanova would get no closer than 14 points the rest of the way in a 76-51 rout that was as stunning as it was thorough. As it was getting started, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann realized what he needed to do.
That was to mostly get out of the way.
“Honestly in those situations your players are so laser-focused that you're trying not to over-coach at that point and get in their way,” he said. “That's what I was trying to do. I knew they would make a run, as they did in the second half, but I was trying to get out of their way a little bit.”
It bordered on clinical. The Buckeyes scored on six of their first seven possessions, with the lone exception coming on a Walker turnover with the lead at 12-3. But then he made up for it with a steal, leading to a fast break that Washington slammed home for a 14-3 lead. Then, seemingly against all odds, Washington hit another three for a 17-3 lead, giving him 11 points in the first three minutes.
That extrapolated to Washington finishing with 147 points through 40 minutes and Ohio State finishing with 227. It was absurd, and it also had Wright concerned.
While it was obviously a pace no team could sustain, the manner in which his players were allowing the Buckeyes to score was problematic.
“I really did think the first three threes were definitely (concerning),” he said. “We respected their three-point shooting. We knew they could go inside to (Kaleb) Wesson, but they were three plays where they shouldn't have even gotten one off so I was concerned right away. It was basic defensive concepts, right? We're supposed to be prepared for that. We as a staff have to take responsibility for that. Giving them up the way that we did, that was concerning.”
It flew in the face of the way Ohio State started its first two games of the season. In a 64-56 win against Cincinnati a week earlier, the Buckeyes went scoreless for the first 7:40 of the game while missing eight field goals and three free throws, turning the ball over five times on 11 possessions.
Then against UMass Lowell four days later, it was a 3:29 scoreless stretch to open the game during which the Buckeyes missed four field goals and two free throws. They won that game comfortably, 76-56, but it seemed like a pattern was forming.
Then Washington and Walker blasted the doors off, combining for the first 17 points.
“He prepared for this moment,” Walker said of Washington. “He's always in the gym, always working. In practice we know what he can do. We all believe in him. We're not shocked by it because we know what he's capable of doing. You've got to feed the hot hand and give him the ball in his spots and make him make plays. He carried us through the first four minutes of that game and set the tone from there.”
Walker, the Florida State transfer who sat out last season, finished with 10 points after scoring 15 in the first two games. After going 4 for 11 from the floor entering the game, he was 4 of 8 against Villanova while also handing out seven assists with just one turnover. The seven assists tied a career high.
“It feels good,” Walker said. “We worked really hard this summer. We just wanted to stick together throughout the runs. We had a groove going into the game, we knew it was going to be a good game when people came out like that.”
Villanova's 51 points were the fewest scored by a ranked team against Ohio State since the No. 15 Buckeyes beat No. 2 Michigan 56-53 on Jan. 13, 2013. Under Holtmann, the Buckeyes are now 1-1 when playing at home as a ranked team against another ranked team and 21-9 overall as a ranked team.
The 25-point win was Ohio State's biggest against a top-10 team since a 93-65 win against No. 10 Wisconsin on March 6, 2011.
“Probably two or three times have I ever been a part of a game as a head coach where almost everything kind of goes your way,” Holtmann said. “That's the reality. Very rarely do you have games like that. The players made plays, but we were in a really good rhythm. How do we continue to grow is our biggest challenge for us moving forward and how do we respond when things don't always go our way?”
Wesson makes his impact
Kaleb Wesson was one of five Buckeyes to score in double figures, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting and 11 rebounds. He is averaging 10.3 points through three games and now has recorded consecutive double-doubles to give him eight for his career.
In discussing Wesson's overall impact to this point of the year, Holtmann took umbrage at a question he said he'd been asked recently about the junior expanding his game to increasingly include a three-point shot.
“I had a guy say to me, because Kaleb was shooting threes: 'Hey, is he playing for Ohio State or the NBA?' He is 100 percent playing for Ohio State,” Holtmann said. “That kid is playing for Ohio State. He's not thinking about anything else right now. He is committed to playing for Ohio State. That was my reaction when I talked to him, because that kid's all about Ohio State right now.”
By the end of the season, Holtmann said he expects Wesson to lead the Buckeyes in shot attempts and scoring. There will be plenty of opportunities for him to put up big numbers in the paint and be the go-to offensive weapon, the coach said.
Against the Wildcats, though, the most impressive stat line was the fact that Wesson finished with four blocks and did not commit a foul in a team-high 34:43.
“He is on another level,” Holtmann said. “He's really committed to it. I think if I'm at the next level, I've looked at that and said, 'Hey.' I'm certainly not trying to push Kaleb out of our program but if I'm the next level I look at that and say, 'Hey, he's really moving well. He's really committed at that end.' ”
Holtmann entered the game having won his last two games coaching against Villanova while at Butler. The first came against a Wildcats team ranked No. 1 nationally, and the second was against a team ranked No. 2.
Villanova has been a program Holtmann said he has tried to model his own after and often cited Wright as a coach he has tried to emulate.
“He's really a guy that I have tried to glean a lot from and learn from, X-and-O wise, tactically, how he runs his program,” Holtmann said. “There's not a coach in the country I respect more than Jay Wright.”
After the game, Wright offered praise for Holtmann and his decision to leave the Big East for the Big Ten.
“I got to see Ohio State's football facilities and get to see this facility and the first thing I said to him was, 'I'm happy for you, man, it's a great place,' ” Wright said. “He was in a great place before; this is another level. I am happy for him. He's a really good coach, good guy who did a good job in our league. These teams play very similar to his Butler teams with the ability to drive the ball, the intelligent post play, good solid physical defense. Very similar and they gave us trouble when he was in the Big East. We have great respect for him.”
The Buckeyes are putting up highlight-worthy plays with such frequency in the early going that they can be forgotten by the time the game is over.
Two dunks from this game still stand out, but for different reasons. The first came on Ohio State's opening possession of the second half, one that came after Villanova had used a 9-0 spurt to close the first half and pull within 18 points. After Kyle Young altered a Jeremiah Robinson-Earl shot on the opening possession, he caught an alley-oop from Kaleb Wesson that he slammed home to open the scoring and push the lead back to 20 points.
It was designed to send a message.
“I did feel like that was big,” Holtmann said. “I did feel like we needed to reenergize the crowd a little bit. You don't always do that as a coach because it's one play but he said how about we (try). (Assistant coach Ryan Pedon) talked about running that action (Tuesday) in our offensive meetings and came out at halftime and said, 'Hey how about running this?'
“We thought we could get a specific player on it, so that was the reason for it.”
The second was mostly remarkable for how it went down and the immediate reaction. Leading 58-32 just past the midway point of the second half, Young dribbled the ball toward the right wing as Carton knifed toward the basket on a backdoor cut that his defender, Justin Moore, never saw coming.
Young fed Carton a bounce pass, and he slammed home a left-handed dunk as 6-9 forward Cole Swider tried in vain to stop the 6-2 freshman. Then, as he turned back upcourt, Carton stared back at Swider and Moore with…anger? Emotion?
“I didn't really know how to react from that,” Carton said. “I just knew we needed a big play and it was a good play call by coach, great pass by my boy Kyle and he just put me in a great situation to make a play. It was fun, celebrating with my teammates and being able to play the game I love.”
That, too, was called by Pedon.
“Those were Ryan's calls,” Holtmann said. “Kyle was a draw-up; D.J.'s has been in our playbook. (Pedon) deserved the credit for that.”
Senior walk-on Danny Hummer checked into the game with 1:35 to play as Holtmann emptied his bench a little bit. He was one of 10 Buckeyes to see playing time, but that total didn't include sophomore forward Justin Ahrens.
After dealing with a back injury that cost him nearly the entire summer and part of preseason camp, Holtmann said he wasn't able to play against Villanova.
“His back was bothering him,” Holtmann said. “He said that in the game. He just was really stiff.”
Ahrens played seven minutes in the opener against Cincinnati and 18 minutes against UMass Lowell. He is 0 for 4 from the floor with three of his shots coming from three-point range.
-With seven rebounds, Young reached 200 for his career.
-Liddell made his first career three-pointer and finished 2 for 2 from deep.
-freshman Alonzo Gaffney got the final two Ohio State baskets on alley-oop dunks, both of which were assisted by Walker
“I feel like we found out that we're very hungry. We've been very hungry all season long and I think we have things to prove. We've got a lot of things to learn, but I feel like we're playing pretty good basketball right now and playing as a unit. I'm having a great time on the floor with my teammates and I think as long as that keeps going forward we'll continue to learn and progress from there.” – Carton