Muhammad showing love for defense

Adam Jardy
ajardy@dispatch.com
Ohio State's Luther Muhammad pressures Purdue Fort Wayne's John Konchar during the Buckeyes' victory on Sunday. [Eric Albrecht/Dispatch]

An 8 a.m. game during summer AAU basketball can be a grind for coaches and players alike. It was in that situation two summers ago that Chris Holtmann and his newly hired coaching staff at Ohio State identified a player who would become a key recruit for them.

What the Buckeyes saw then of Luther Muhammad has been on full display for the first two games of his college career. Known as a tenacious defender from New Jersey, Muhammad has been a spark at both ends of the court but primarily on the defensive end in wins against Cincinnati and Purdue Fort Wayne.

“When we saw him in AAU, we’d have an 8 a.m. game and Luther Muhammad would be out there doing that at an 8 a.m. game,” Holtmann said after Sunday’s win against Purdue Fort Wayne. “The only guy on both teams with that personality. The only guy.”

Case in point: In the season opener at Cincinnati, the Buckeyes had just taken a 16-point second-half lead when the Bearcats brought the ball across halfcourt to call a timeout. As they did, Muhammad swiped at the ball in an attempt to get a deflection that could lead to a quick turnover.

Then against the Mastodons, Muhammad was tasked with guarding John Konchar, a three-time all-Summit League selection who has averaged nearly 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game entering his senior season. Purdue Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman called him “as good of a player as there is in mid-major basketball.”

Against the Buckeyes, Konchar was held to 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting as Muhammad hounded him across the court. Afterward, Muhammad made it clear that he loves playing defense.

“Everyone who plays basketball likes to score, but what good is scoring if your guy is also scoring?” he said. “I just feel like it’s better when you score and also you get a stop and your man isn’t scoring. If you score 20 and your man scores 20, you really ain’t scoring. I take a lot of pride in defense.

“That’s just where I’m from and that’s just what I grew up on.”

It made him into a four-star prospect at Jersey City Hudson Catholic, where he played third fiddle on offense behind five-star recruits Louis King, who signed with Oregon, and Jahvon Quinerly, who signed with Villanova. It’s also given him an edge that the Buckeyes are still working to harness in the best possible ways: His technical foul after hitting a big three-pointer at Cincinnati with 5:21 remaining gave the Bearcats some momentum that ultimately led to a competitive finish to the game.

Against the Mastodons, Holtmann gestured to him to calm down at one point as he was smiling and appeared to be talking to Konchar. Holtmann joked after the win that he didn’t want Muhammad to average a technical foul per game.

It’s clear that the freshman hasn’t been intimidated by the bigger stage.

“Now you can be defending a draft pick rather than just defending a top-100 player that is an unfinished product,” he said. “It’s definitely more detail and you’ve just got to be ready all the time.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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