The point at which a college basketball game no longer becomes useful depends on the viewer.
For the purposes of writing a game recap, halftime of Monday night’s 35-point Ohio State win against Stetson would mostly suffice. For Hatters coach Donnie Jones, the second half actually proved useful as his youthful team found a way to fight for a more respectable showing against the reserves and walk-ons the Buckeyes were primarily leaning on. For the announced crowd of 9,774, it grew progressively with each second-half timeout as No. 10 Ohio State built a lead that would grow as high as 47 points.
For Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, he wouldn’t divulge when that point occurred other than to acknowledge that a game like this one does eventually hit it.
"I’m going to certainly put an edit together on plays that we need to do better," he said after an 86-51 win that moved the Buckeyes to 4-0. "Busted plays. We had a busted play toward the end of the first half, but there will be a point that we move onto practice and practice film. It will be useful, but there will be a point to where it won’t be useful."
The Hatters came to Value City Arena as the lowest-rated team on Ohio State’s schedule this season. According to KenPom.com, the Buckeyes were given a 99.6 percent chance of beating Stetson, which ranked No. 330 out of 353 Division I teams.
The discrepancy in talent was obvious immediately. Ohio State opened with an 8-0 run and built a 28-3 lead through the first 14 minutes of the game as Stetson’s lone points came on a banked-in three-pointer. The Hatters missed 23 of their first 24 shots and essentially played themselves out of the game before the second media timeout.
When the visitors made a first-half shot, the Ohio State crowd actually offered some applause. That grew less prevalent when Stetson hit two threes in 25 seconds to pull within 28 points at halftime.
But once Ohio State methodically built its first-half lead, what was there still to play for with the outcome already decided?
"Just getting better," junior forward Kyle Young said. "We’re working on our defense, our offense. Just working on stuff every day. Our defensive intensity, we want to keep that up all game and we want to try to play like that for 40 minutes. This is something that coaches every day are on us preparing the same way, playing hard every day. That’s something that we’re becoming more used to. It’s definitely tough to play hard all 40 but that’s what we’re trying to do."
Holtmann credited his starting lineup of CJ Walker, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington Jr., Kaleb Wesson and Young for setting the early tone. Five days removed from a 25-point win against then-No. 10 Villanova, the opportunity was there for a letdown against a low-major opponent in a roughly half-full arena in a late-starting weeknight game.
"You’re really trying to stay committed to how you want to play with playing a variety of guys," Holtmann said. "You’re trying to keep guys accountable for doing the things they expect them to do, effort and playing through (adversity). I thought it was good because we had a couple of opportunities there where we got beat to loose balls and got beat on the glass and stuff that we definitely need to do better."
The Hatters are actually younger than the Buckeyes: They are No. 341 nationally in average experience, even lower than Ohio State at No. 308.
Holtmann said the coaching staff spent the second half looking at its rotations while trying not to show too much. Stetson shot 41.4 percent (12 for 29) during the second half after going 4 for 28 (14.3 percent) during the first half. The Hatters finished 16 for 57 (28.1 percent) from the floor overall but scored 37 of their 51 points during the second half.
"You’re looking at rotations," Holtmann said. "You’re being mindful of not showing too much offensively. At the same time, trying to work on some of your execution stuff. As a coach, you very rarely feel like the game’s in hand, but once you do feel like it’s in hand you don’t want to show too much."
Back in action
He didn’t look like himself in more than one way, but senior forward Andre Wesson made his first appearance since suffering a fractured right eye socket in the Cincinnati win.
In 20:56, Wesson finished with six points on 2-of-6 shooting and had three assists, two rebounds, one steal and one turnover. He wasn’t quite the defender or physical player he’s shown himself to be throughout his career, and his right eye is still red, but his appearance in the game was about helping get him back into a rhythm, Holtmann said.
Wesson was only medically cleared for contact two days prior.
"If you had a chance to look at him, his eye is still pretty bloodied up," Holtmann said. "He’s such a tough kid and has an incredibly high pain tolerance. I want to bring him back slowly. I want him to get back in a rhythm of playing. We need him to get back obviously as quickly as he can into a rhythm of playing and I thought he was able to do that some tonight."
Rewarding good habits
With the lead at 26-3 past the midpoint of the first half, Holtmann made a surprising substitution when he inserted freshman Ibrahima Diallo into the game to replace E.J. Liddell. Diallo had been an unused substitute against Cincinnati and Villanova and played only six second-half minutes against UMass Lowell, meaning this was the first time he’d seen first-half action in his career.
It also meant the final scholarship player to come off the bench was classmate Alonzo Gaffney, who did not appear until 6:22 remained in the half when he replaced Andre Wesson with the lead at 34-6. It would be the start of a tough night for Gaffney, who was the lone scholarship player not to score a point.
He fouled out in 9:16, recording one turnover and no other statistics. Diallo, in 14:11, finished with six points, five rebounds, four fouls, one block and one turnover. Afterward, Holtmann was asked about Gaffney and Diallo’s minutes.
"What I was trying to do with Ibrahima in particular was reward the fact that he’s had pretty consistent practice habits," Holtmann said. "And if you don’t have consistent practice habits and you’re young, I’m sorry, I’m not going to play you. Now, (Ibrahima) has got to perform and do some things better, but what I was hoping to do with him is he hasn’t missed a day of practice. He’s been consistent. His attitude’s been pretty good. I wanted to reward that with giving him some early time tonight.
"I think guys sometimes, young guys, you feel like practice is just practice. It’s extremely important. We’re evaluating it every single minute we are in between the lines and we’re making determinations on who we can trust based on their effort and their habits in practice. I think we’ve got some guys that have to continue to understand that."
Once he checked into the game during the first half, Gaffney picked up two fouls in 37 seconds and was removed from the game with 5:17 to play. During the second half, he entered the game with 13:21 to play and the lead at 63-21. He picked up a third foul at 11:14, turned the ball over with 7:36 to play and then picked up his final two fouls at 5:38 and 5:10, respectively.
When he came out of the game for a final time, Holtmann spoke with him for several seconds near the scorers’ table before patting him on the side and letting him retreat to the bench, where his teammates offered him high-fives.
A few Buckeyes ticked off milestone beginnings in the win.
First, Diallo scored his first career points when he connected on a left-handed hook shot in the paint with 7:35 remaining in the first half.
"That felt good, yeah," he said. "That felt really good."
Each of his three field goals set off celebrations on the Ohio State bench for the Senegal native who has seemingly been embraced by his teammates.
"I think they love me," he said.
Young, seated to Diallo’s left, cut him off.
"That’s our guy," he said to Diallo. "We love you."
Diallo then finished his thought.
"We’re really tight and they know I’ve been working hard for that, so that’s why when I score everybody gets so excited," he said with a smile.
With 2:02 to play, sophomore walk-on Harrison Hookfin scored his first career points on a put-back of an E.J. Liddell miss. It was his third career appearance since joining the program midseason last year.
Sophomore Justin Ahrens also scored his first points of the season. After the back injury that cost him three months of the offseason stiffened up and kept him out of last Wednesday’s Villanova game, Ahrens hit three three-pointers to finish with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting. All of his attempts were from behind the arc, and he added four defensive rebounds in 17:35.
He’s now 3 for 10 from deep this season after missing his first three attempts.
Holtmann also reported seeing a new personal first in the game. With the game well in hand, senior walk-on Danny Hummer stole the ball and pushed it upcourt with about two minutes to play. As he drove into the lane from the left wing, he threw a bounce pass back between his legs to a waiting Ahrens, who did not make the three-pointer.
"Those kind of plays are a lot better when the ball goes in, but Danny is a senior who has worked his tail off, so I try to give him a little bit of leverage when it comes to that," Holtmann said. "But it was interesting, that’s for sure. I can’t say I’ve seen that a whole lot in practice."
In his first year as the Hatters coach, Jones had a hand in one of the banners hanging at Value City Arena. A longtime assistant for Billy Donovan, Jones was on staff when Florida won consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007.
Hanging in the rafters is a banner proclaiming Ohio State’s national runner-up finish in 2007, when the Buckeyes lost to the Gators in the title game.
"Much respect first off all for this program and obviously the players," he said. "I was born in Ohio, in Gallipolis, Ohio, and lived in a town a couple hours from here, Point Pleasant (West Virginia), so I’ve had great respect for Ohio State for many, many years. When Thad (Matta) was here, he’d done a great job and I know we had some great games during those times. I know Chris has jumped right in here and put this program back in a situation where it’s obviously a top-10 program night-in and night-out. They’ve got a lot of good, young guys and it’s only going to get better here."
"I don’t care. Ask me in a couple months. I understand your point. It’s probably good for recruiting in some ways, but I really don’t care." – Holtmann, on Ohio State climbing to No. 10 in Monday’s Associated Press top 25 poll.