Bullying the Bulldogs

Ohio State 89, South Carolina State 61 Aggressive Kaleb Wesson gets Buckeyes going early

Adam Jardy
Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson, right, fights for a rebound with South Carolina State guard Damani Applewhite during the second half. The Buckeyes' Andre Wesson is at left. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Murray Garvin has spent his life around basketball. Now in his sixth season as South Carolina State’s coach, he’s watched big men come and go and has seen roles change through the evolution of the sport.

What he saw Sunday afternoon at Value City Arena took him back a few years to an iconic player. Powered early and often by Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State (4-0) never trailed against the overmatched Bulldogs (1-4) in an 89-61 victory that saw the sophomore center score 17 first-half points and finish one shy of his career high of 19 while playing just 21:03.

The Bulldogs have just one player listed on the roster as equal to Wesson’s 6-foot-9 frame — Alex Taylor, who will join the Bulldogs when he finishes his duties as the starting right tackle for the football team. The mismatch reminded Garvin of Shaquille O’Neal in his heyday.

“He drew 12 fouls from our guys tonight,” Garvin said. “I haven’t seen that before where a post player that big, it’s almost like Shaq in the late 90s.”

Wesson doesn’t bring the same rim-rattling game as O’Neal, but he played with plenty of aggression early. Wesson hit two free throws only 13 seconds in and made a three-pointer 29 seconds later for a 5-0 lead.

He would finish with a career-high three three-pointers despite playing less than seven minutes in the second half with the game well in hand.

“I just feel like I had it going early and my teammates just kept finding me,” Wesson said.

Ahead 12-8, he added another three as part of a 12-0 run capped by a pair of Jaedon LeDee free throws to make it 24-8 with 10:12 to play in the half, and it was clear a mismatch was in the making. The Buckeyes led 43-21 at the half and never saw the lead dip below 20 points.

South Carolina State entered the game ranked 348th among the 353 teams in the rankings. Junior power forward Damani Applewhite, the Bulldogs' focal point at 19.0 points per game, saw a rotating cast of Ohio State defenders and finished with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann wasn’t happy with his team’s 15 turnovers or occasional defensive lapses. The team’s start was another story, though.

Three days removed from an important road win against Creighton, and playing in a game aired only online and played in front of an announced crowd 10,935, this had the markings of a trap game for the Buckeyes. At the opening tip, though, each member on the bench was jumping up and down to the music and exchanging chest bumps.

“I thought our start was good,” Holtmann said. “I still would like to see even more. I just think we need more consistency to our effort. I thought Kaleb’s aggressiveness offensively set the tone.”

After scoring a game-high 19 points in the win against Creighton, graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods was scoreless on two shots. Holtmann said Woods came down with an illness shortly before the game.