MADISON, Wis. – It’s been a while since Andre Wesson has been summoned to talk with the media after a game.
As Ohio State has endeavored to work itself out of a slide that saw six losses in seven games, the senior has put in his work on the court but typically been overshadowed by either a big performance or a player in demand for a specific topic. The lone scholarship senior for the Buckeyes, Wesson was one of two players who was given the unenviable task of trying to explain the most lopsided loss of the season, a 14-point loss at Penn State in mid-January.
Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center, he was back in the same spot. Ohio State had just lost, 70-57, in a game in which it allowed a game-changing run to close the first half and then trailed by as many as 24 points during the second half.
Standing in a hallway outside the visitors’ locker room that was adorned with photos of acts to have appeared at the arena, a presentation that includes the Dalai Lama, Mumford & Sons and Britney Spears, it was left to Wesson alone to explain away a loss that bore more than a passing resemblance to the stretch that sent the Buckeyes spiraling.
It’s a role that’s taken some getting used to.
"It’s not bad," he said. "It’s something I’ve got to do. It might as well be me."
In the loss, Wesson had a team-high 11 points. Nine of them came on three first-half three-pointers, one of which was a banked-in heave from straight-on as the shot clock buzzed. He played a team-high 31:43.
After a loss at Maryland back on Jan. 7, which was Ohio State’s third in a row, Wesson said his performance – 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting – was born out of a desire to try and lead this team and compensate for the loss of Kyle Young. The junior forward had missed his second game with an appendectomy, and Wesson’s play in that game was reminiscent of Young’s high-energy style.
It was the first of four straight games in which Wesson scored in double figures. Ohio State won one of those. More recently, Wesson had 11 points in a win at Northwestern and 10 in the ensuing home win against Indiana before going scoreless in Tuesday’s win at Michigan.
Now here he was, trying to explain this most recent loss.
"I mean, it’s different from past years, but it’s something I’m trying to continue to get better at, being a senior leader," he said. "It’s fun, really. I love those guys in there and to be able to walk out with them every day, it’s fun."
It’s not a role the reserved Wesson is necessarily naturally suited for, but he said he’s embracing it. In that way, Wesson is reminiscent of last year’s lone recruited scholarship senior, C.J. Jackson, who often found himself trying to explain tough losses.
Jackson wasn’t a natural fit for the role, but he accepted it.
"Looking at C.J., (I’m) following what he did last year for us," Wesson said. "He was a great leader for us and (I’m) just trying to carry over what he brought to us."
Cold shooting for leaders
Ohio State’s two leading scorers for the season, Kaleb Wesson and Duane Washington Jr., were a combined 4 for 19 from the floor. Wesson was 2 for 11 and Washington was 2 for 8, and each missed all four three-pointers he attempted.
That’s a lot to overcome for this Ohio State offense.
"We’re going to struggle usually when that’s the case," coach Chris Holtmann said. "Our defense better be really good in those situations. One of those guys has to have a pretty good night for us. There’s no question that’s a concern for us. We’ve got to figure out as coaches if we can get them the ball in better situations and spots and then they have to go finish plays. Duane in his case has to make plays and be more patient than what he was today."
Their performances came one game removed from a Michigan win where Wesson had 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting and Washington added 17 on 7-of-14 shooting.
Wesson was quiet on the boards, too. In his last four games, Wesson had pulled down 14, 10, 11 and 12 rebounds but finished with only six in the loss to the Badgers.
A few statistics that stand out from the game.
*Wisconsin was 8 for 18 from three during the first half, a big reason why it was able to bury the Buckeyes 38-20 heading into the break. I’ve written a sidebar on this topic and Ohio State’s season-long struggles at defending the three, and you can read it at BuckeyeXtra.com.
* Wisconsin's 15 second-chance points today marked a season high for the Badgers. Two of their four best offensive rebounding performances of the year, and their two best showings in conference play, are against the Buckeyes.
*After only turning the ball over eight times at Michigan, the Buckeyes had nine by halftime and finished with 14. Andre Wesson led the team with four.
*Junior guard CJ Walker had his second straight rough shooting night. After missing all six field-goal attempts at Michigan, he was 2 for 8 against the Badgers but hit four free-throw attempts to finish with nine points.
*The Buckeyes were 15 for 16 from the line.
At the conclusion of the game, Ohio State was one of four Big Ten teams to have played seven road games, a group Northwestern would join by night’s end.
The Buckeyes dropped to 2-5 on the road, giving them an identical road record with Purdue and Wisconsin and one game better than 1-6 Minnesota. Both the Badgers and Gophers earned their wins at Ohio State.
Now the Buckeyes will host Rutgers and Purdue this week.
"We definitely need these two," Andre Wesson said. "We’ve got to get back to .500. (in league play). That’s what we’re trying to do, and these next two at home are going to be big."
Potter the starter
When Ohio State hosted Wisconsin back on Jan. 3, it marked the Big Ten debut for Buckeyes transfer Micah Potter. He came off the bench against his former team, finishing with four points and three rebounds in 11 minutes.
The Buckeyes were without Young in that game as he recovered from his appendectomy. Young started in this game, and that led Wisconsin coach Greg Gard to start Potter for the first time in his Wisconsin career. He finished with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting and had five rebounds, one assist, three turnovers and a season-high two steals.
"Them (the Buckeyes) having changed their lineup and what I’ve seen from Micah, being more comfortable, I thought it was a good time to throw him in the starting lineup from a matchup standpoint," Gard said.
Young finished with four points on 2-of-3 shooting and had three rebounds.
"I thought we had (turned a corner), but obviously we haven’t. We were not consistent in the areas we talked about, finishing around the basket, making tough, physical plays. I just didn’t think we were very good. We’ve got to learn from it." – Holtmann