Muhammad makes mark with his work on defense
Anxiety can do strange things to a coach. When Chris Holtmann woke up Sunday on his 47th birthday, it made him take a 5-mile run at a blistering pace and then likely negate all caloric benefit by eating a bag of cookies for a pregame meal.
The stress came from the challenge of facing a Purdue Fort Wayne team with an elite player who played a key role in a 20-point win at Indiana last season.
Holtmann needn’t have worried. The Buckeyes had a not-so-secret weapon all along. With freshman guard Luther Muhammad harassing Mastodons linchpin John Konchar all game, they improved to 2-0 with a 107-61 win in the home opener at Value City Arena.
It marked the most points scored by Ohio State since it put up 111 against Marshall on Nov. 25, 2016.
Ahead by seven at the half, the Buckeyes outscored Purdue Fort Wayne 66-27 after the break as they controlled the glass and made 11 of 18 three-pointers.
“We’re not as good as we were in the second half and that’s not who they are, either, so I’m not sure how accurate that is,” Holtmann said.
A 12-0 early second-half run helped the Buckeyes pull away, as did senior C.J. Jackson making three straight three-pointers at one point. He led all scorers with a career-high 25 points while freshman Duane Washington Jr. had 20 points, Jaedon LeDee had 16 thanks to a 12-for-14 performance on free throws and Muhammad added 12.
Konchar finished with 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting and had nine rebounds — seven in the first half, when the Mastodons (1-2) had a 20-18 advantage in rebounds, including a 7-1 edge at the offensive end.
“He’s a great player and he moves a lot without the ball and he does a lot for them,” Muhammad said. “You’ve got to stay attached to him and pay attention to detail and play your role.”
With Purdue Fort Wayne hanging around early, Washington made consecutive three-pointers, the latter of which came with 59 seconds left in the half, to give the Buckeyes a 41-32 lead. And after the Mastodons missed a three at their end, Andre Wesson tied to put an exclamation point on the half as he rose for a powerful, left-handed dunk. He couldn’t connect, however, and the junior came down hard on his back and was helped to the locker room.
It was announced as a lower-back strain, and he would return during the second half for a little more than three minutes of playing time before foul trouble and the score led Holtmann to sit him.
“If it was a close game he definitely would’ve played,” Holtmann said. “I think he’s going to be sore.”
LeDee, who did not play in the opener against Cincinnati, made his debut with 14:58 left in the first half as Holtmann’s second substitution of the game. Classmate Justin Ahrens also made his debut, subbing in with 5:56 to play and the lead at 82-48.