The box score from Ohio State's tenth win of the season looks like a misprint.
After taking their first loss of the season, the No. 5 Buckeyes hosted Southeast Missouri on Tuesday night at Value City Arena. The Redhawks entered the game ranked No. 299 nationally and three wins to their credit. One was against a non-Division I team and another was a one-point win against a Purdue Fort Wayne team that Ohio State had beaten 85-46 back on Nov. 22.
Against an overmatched opponent, the Buckeyes managed to turn the ball over 21 times, their most since they had that many in a loss at Iowa on Jan. 12, 2019. That by itself seems an unusual statistic, but it continues from there.
Southeast Missouri was credited with only three steals among those 21 turnovers. And then, as a result, the Redhawks were able to turn those 21 turnovers into only three points.
Oh, and for good measure, the Buckeyes had a season-high 23 assists. They earned those on 30 made field goals, marking their most assists since they had 16 against UCLA on Dec. 22, 2018.
“I thought we didn't play with enough force of strength,” coach Chris Holtmann said when presented with the assist and turnover figures. “Just stuff we need to work through and get better at, honestly. I love the 23 assists, but this is now two games where we've had a lot of turnovers. We're playing the best defensive team I've seen on film since I've been here on Saturday so we're going to need to be better, for sure.”
Guard CJ Walker and center Kaleb Wesson each had five turnovers. Forward Andre Wesson had three, and of the nine Buckeyes who saw at least 12 minutes of playing time just one didn't turn it over: sophomore wing Justin Ahrens.
They came in all different forms. A pass was delivered with too much force and deflected out of bounds. Players were called for offensive fouls. At one point, players ran into each other, knocking a pass out of bounds in the process.
“I think we need practice time and we need to continue to get film work,” Holtmann said. “I certainly was frustrated with the turnovers. You've also got to be careful not to communicate that at such a high level to your group. If guys aren't doing what they need to do, they need to come sit by me and we need to have a conversation and then they need to adjust as they go back in the game. I think that's the step for us. We had some different guys play tonight and that was good for us but probably a by-product was some of the rough play.”
Although Walker had five turnovers, he had a team-high six assists. Just behind him, freshman D.J. Carton had five assists and two turnovers.
For much of the first half, it seemed as if Sunday's loss at Minnesota had made the trip home with Ohio State. The Buckeyes had 14 turnovers in that game and were never within three possessions during the second half.
It took a little while for Ohio State to shake free of that.
“I think we were preaching just go back to having fun,” Kaleb Wesson said. “After that Sunday, we weren't us (in that game). We had to preach, we've got to get back to our ways. Playing our way and moving the basketball and having fun, that's what we do. We had to keep preaching to get back to that.”
Ohio State has plummeted down to No. 149 nationally in turnover percentage after entering the game ranked in the 80s according to KenPom.com.
“I'm frustrated with the turnovers, but I don't know: do you want me to toss the table over here and start swearing at you?” Holtmann said when asked about the turnovers for a third time. “I don't know what response you want from me. I'm disappointed and frustrated and we've got to figure out how to correct it but I also recognize that we did have some youth out there.”
Wesson fine after scare
The Buckeyes had endured a clock malfunction immediately after the opening tipoff and three consecutive turnovers when Kaleb Wesson went down awkwardly near the Ohio State basket. Running up the court, the team's leading scorer slipped and went down in pain as his left knee bent awkwardly.
A sickening silence fell over the crowd as trainers rushed out to check on him, and Holtmann was immediately concerned.
“Yeah, any time a guy goes down and grabs a knee, it's scary,” the coach said. “You're concerned first and foremost for him. I was highest level of concern when a guy like that goes down and immediately grabs his knee. I think coaches, probably families, probably fans, your mind goes to places you don't want it to go.”
After a moment, Wesson was able to walk off the court under his own power and straight to the locker room. That latter part was a direct order from Holtmann.
“My biggest thing for him was just, he said, 'I'm fine, I'm fine, I just think I hyperextended it,' ” Holtmann said. “We wanted him to get evaluated before he even walked on it. Doc and the staff did a great job.”
It wasn't the only blow he'd sustain during the game. In scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, he also suffered a bloody nose and rolled his ankle on another play.
“I started off with my knee,” Wesson said. “My knee kind of rolled up under me, but it was fine. Kind of scared me more than hurt me. Came back down, busted my lip. A couple possessions later my ankle got rolled up under. It was a tough one today, but I'm good.”
The Buckeyes were without sophomore Duane Washington Jr. for a second straight game, and his status for Saturday's game against Kentucky is unknown. His absence again had a noticeable impact on Ohio State's offensive spacing, particularly in the first half.
“I just think we've got to continue to adjust to playing without him if in fact we're going to play without him for a while,” Holtmann said.
The injury is to cartilage around one of Washington's ribs and does not appear to have occurred while in a game. Asked about his availability against the Wildcats, Holtmann said he didn't know.
“It's still day to day,” he said. “He obviously could not have played today. Was not close to being able to play. He's been out a significant amount. He's not done anything really significant in terms of practice since the Penn State game.”
Kaleb Wesson said that while his loss was felt, it was more than just a missing Washington that affected the Ohio State offense as it struggled to find traction during the first half.
“It's not just one guy, but not having a great shooter like Duane out there definitely doesn't allow us to spread the floor as much as we're used to,” he said. “I felt like it was more us, just getting out of our game.”
Paying it forward
The game was already well in hand when Andre Wesson got the ball on the wing with six minutes to play. Ohio State held a 67-36 lead, and the senior had a pretty good look at a three-pointer when the ball got to him.
Instead of launching a shot, though, he fed the ball to freshman Alonzo Gaffney on the left block, who dunked it. It was an unselfish play from the senior, and the basketball gods would pay the favor back before long.
In the span of 99 seconds, Wesson connected on three straight three-pointers to push it to a 38-point lead and force Southeast Missouri to call timeout with 3:13 remaining. At that point, his night was done.
“Dre's a player,” his younger-but-bigger brother, Kaleb, said. “We trust Dre with every shot he takes, with every move he makes. He's our senior. We put full trust in him and he leads us to wins.”
Asked if he'd seen Andre get hot like that from three, Kaleb laughed and said, “Dre's a shooter. Dre's a player. You all should've known that. In Purdue? Dre's a player. Dre's like that.”
In a 64-63 win at Purdue on Feb. 7, 2018, Andre hit 3 of 5 three-pointers and finished with 13 points as the Buckeyes knocked off the No. 3 team in the country.
Holtmann said his lone scholarship senior has been playing well since coming back from a fractured eye socket suffered during the first game of the season.
“You look at his assist-to-turnover numbers on the season, they're pretty good,” the coach said. “His shooting percentage continues to take a jump forward. I think some of this, he's got to be patient with coming back from the injury and getting in a rhythm. You can't press and be good offensively individually. If you're coming out pressing offensively, you're only going to hurt yourself. He's got to let it happen and that was good to see him knock down some shots.”
Here's a glimpse at how drastically different these two basketball programs are.
Southeast Missouri is winless in 14 games against ranked team and in nine games against Big Ten teams. This was the highest-ranked opponent the Redhawks had ever faced.
Even further, though, this was the first televised game for the visitors this year. It came in the biggest arena the program has ever played in.
Oh, and in order to supplement its athletic department's bottom line, this was the seventh straight game away from home for Southeast Missouri. It still has one more to go before returning home to face Missouri Baptist on Dec. 29 – more than a month removed from its last home game, which took place Nov. 22.
But these are both considered Division I programs.
“I think you always wonder with your group what's the confidence level going to be after a loss? And a loss honestly where it was out of hand really for a large part of the game. I think you're always as a coach trying to figure the psyche out of your group. I thought maybe at times we were pressing a little bit, but it's good. We've got to get better in the area of ball handling and turnovers and that's a good thing that comes out of this game.” – Holtmann