It hadn't been the most pleasing half of basketball for Ohio State this season, and yet the No. 10 Buckeyes still took a 42-25 lead into the half Friday night against Purdue Fort Wayne. Against the outmanned Mastodons, Ohio State built its 17-point lead despite going only 3 for 16 from three-point range.
Only sophomore Duane Washington Jr. seemed immune to the issues, and he was 2 for 3 from deep at the half. The rest of his teammates were 1 for 13, with junior center Kaleb Wesson leading the way after missing all four first-half attempts.
There were other first-half miscues, some of which led to quick exits for players. Halftime featured talk of better attention to detail and a greater defensive awareness against a team known for its ability to hit from three-point range.
Then the Buckeyes came out firing to open the second half, and this time they connected. Wesson opened the scoring with back-to-back three-pointers before CJ Walker hit a three, a jumper in the paint and another three to push the lead to 27 points and force Purdue Fort Wayne to call timeout.
If there was any hopes of a second-half comeback for the Mastodons, they were gone at this point. It was in part thanks to Wesson, and it hammered home a point coach Chris Holtmann wanted to reaffirm to his primary go-to weapon.
After adding a three-pointer to his arsenal entering his sophomore year, Wesson has the green light to keep shooting them even if they aren't falling like they weren't during the first half Friday night.
“He's a really good shooter,” Holtmann said. “I don't want good shooters passing up good shots. If I didn't see him every day and we didn't chart every one of his shooting workouts in the summer, then I don't know. We've got a base of knowledge on the kind of touch that he has.”
During the second half, Wesson would hit all three of his attempts to finish 3 for 7 from three-point range. He took nine total shots for the game and was perfect on four free throws to give him a team-leading 15 points in only 21:25.
It marked a season-high scoring total for Wesson. The seven three-point attempts are a career high, and the three makes tie for a career high.
“I thought maybe there might've been one or two in the first half that wasn't great, but I thought the rest of them were good, even a couple that he missed,” Holtmann said. “I told him that. I said there might be a game where you're 1-of-4 and it's late and there's three minutes to go in crunch time and it's a one-possession game. If you're open and the ball's moving, I want you to shoot it.”
The shooting proved contagious to his teammates. Ohio State hit 10 of 14 threes (71.4 percent) after halftime, including the first career make from senior walk-on Danny Hummer, to finish 13 for 30 (43.3 percent) for the game.
The 30 attempted threes were the first time the Buckeyes shot at least 30 in one game since they went 12 for 32 against Iowa on Feb. 26, 2019.
“He looks like he's in another level of shape,” Mastodons coach Jon Coffman said of Wesson. “He's so poised when we throw a double team at him. He uses it to his advantage with poise. He doesn't try to make a hero pass out of it. He keeps it moving. The fact that he can shoot the ball like he can, he's a really, really good player.”
Thursday afternoon, Holtmann mentioned that multiple players were dealing with injuries and illness that could be game-time decisions.
He didn't further elaborate, but the full roster participated in warm-ups and all 13 available players saw game action. After the game, Holtmann gave a rundown.
“Duane (Washington Jr.) had a fever today,” the coach said. “D.J. (Carton) was throwing up, missed practice two days ago. CJ Walker missed practice yesterday with a hip injury that happened in practice. And Dre (Andre Wesson) is still getting back.”
Washington finished with eight points and a career-high five assists with no turnovers in 17:12 while making his fourth straight start. Carton had 13 points in 17:43, scoring nine of them in a flurry that lasted less than three minutes. Walker had 11 points, three assists and a career-high-tying four steals in 19:48. Andre Wesson, in his second game after suffering a fractured right eye socket in the season opener, had four points, three rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 17:38.
Asked about the overall health of the team, Washington said, “Day by day. We're grinding. Love life. Blessed to be here and a part of this organization, so whether we've got the snuffles or whatever we're going to come every day and attack it and hopefully we'll all feel better.”
Ohio State has now won 50 games with Holtmann as coach. In two-plus seasons, the Buckeyes are 50-24, which is a .676 winning percentage.
With three more wins, Holtmann will move into a tie with William H.H. Dye, who went 53-34 from 1937-40, for 10th place in career wins at Ohio State. Next on the list is Gary Williams, who won 59 games from 1987-89.
Holtmann did not get to 50 wins faster than his predecessor, Thad Matta, who is the program's all-time wins leader. Matta got his 50 th win in the fourth game of his third season, a 74-45 win against Eastern Kentucky, that made him 50-18 for his career. That's a .735 winning percentage.
In his ongoing recovery from the two herniated discs he suffered during a bad summer deadlifting experience, sophomore Justin Ahrens has now hit three three-pointers during garbage time in consecutive games.
After missing his first three attempts in the first two games and then sitting out the Villanova game due to back stiffness, Ahrens went 3 for 7 against Stetson on Monday and then hit all three of his three-point attempts against the Mastodons.
“It's day-to-day with him,” Holtmann said. “I didn't hold him out in this particular game because of injury. He's got to continue to practice and practice harder and practice with the right approach. I'm on him about that. I think he will. I love Justin. He's got a great attitude, but he's got to fight through this injury and the recovery from it and the setback from it with the degree of toughness that's required. I think when he does that he's going to continue to see the dividends. He's lost about 10 pounds.”
Ahrens hit 19 threes as a freshman, six of which came in one game. He is now 6 for 13 (46.2 percent) for the season.
“Staying on my feet and not fouling is a big part. Walling up and trying to time shots has been my thing for a while. My mom says I get it from her. She played volleyball and she used to spike.” – freshman E.J. Liddell, who had a block against Purdue Fort Wayne and now has eight on the season