Holtmann has more than rebuild going

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra

Ohio State was supposed to handle South Carolina State and so it did, rolling to an 89-61 victory in Value City Arena on Sunday. A crowd of 10,935 nieces and nephews of season-ticket holders was on hand. It was not what is known as a “premium game.”

If you’ve yet to get a look-see at the Buckeyes, you should. Sunday wasn’t optimal given that it’s road-kill time of year for mid-major programs. S.C. State played the fourth in a killer stretch of eight consecutive road games. The Bulldogs won’t see home again until next month. By then, their starting center will have finished the football season and will be back on the hardwood (knock on wood).

This is what a smart coach in the Mid-Eastern American Conference does: Take the paydays and toughen the team in November; hope it pays off when the conference tournament rolls around in March. S.C. State coach Murray Garvin, the 2016 MEAC coach of the year, is no dummy.

“The great thing about (today) is we don’t have to beat Ohio State to get to the (NCAA) Tournament,” Gavin said. “Thank God.”

S.C. State was a weary team with no answer for Ohio State big man Kaleb Wesson. That said, this game was more than a mere scrimmage for the home team. The Buckeyes are as young as they are deep. Their four freshmen and three sophomores in the regular rotation can use the reps.

They faced some tactical challenges as S.C. State mixed three-quarter-court presses with zone and man defenses. Also, forward Damani Applewhite, who came in with a 21-point average, is not someone to sleep on.

Although Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann mumbled some displeasure with the number of turnovers (15) and defensive inconsistencies (“approach, mindset, details, all of that”), his team showed up and took care of business. That is the important thing. The Buckeyes were coming off a 69-60 victory over Creighton in Omaha, Nebraska, Thursday night — and they turned around and had S.C. State beaten by halftime on Sunday afternoon.

The casual OSU basketball fan (i.e. anyone who spent the weekend pulling their hair out over the football game in Maryland) knows that Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams are gone, and that Micah Potter is transferring. This has to be a season of rebuilding and low expectations, right?

It’s early, yes, but a funny thing has happened on the way to 4-0. The Buckeyes christened Cincinnati’s newly renovated arena by pinning a 64-56 loss on the Bearcats. A week later, they beat Creighton by nine in Omaha. If these are not eye-popping victories, they are least eyebrow-raising. It’s early, yes, but these Buckeyes are showing a little something.

Guard play is paramount in today’s college game. We know that C.J. Jackson can rise to the occasion. We had an idea that post-grad transfer Keshawn Woods, who dropped 19 points on Creighton, would be an important addition. What is interesting is how freshmen Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. have so quickly meshed into the backcourt rotation.

Muhammad, who played with two five-star recruits in high school, is finding his own space at the next level. A lockdown defender, he is suddenly a scoring threat. He had 12 points and four assists Sunday. Washington was not a highly ranked recruit — and he looks like a steal right now. He had 14 points on Sunday.

Although Woods played through a stomach bug and did not score, the four guards combined for 33 points and 10 assists against S.C. State. Throw in a couple of Wesson brothers and add depth — Sunday, it was Jaedon LeDee’s turn to score in double digits — and the Buckeyes are more than an afterthought as they head into what promises to be a brutally competitive Big Ten season.