Ohio State men's basketball notebook | Chris Holtmann talks controversial third foul call on Kaleb Wesson
There was one possession late in the first half where everything the Ohio State men’s basketball team has been carrying around since the calendar flipped to 2019 appeared to boil to the surface.
Having struggled through a brutal stretch during which it was outscored 22-1 by visiting Purdue on Wednesday night, the Buckeyes were trailing 35-24 when Kaleb Wesson’s attempt from the left block was partially blocked by Matt Haarms. Running back down the court, Wesson came over to help as Purdue’s Carsen Edwards got around C.J. Jackson and was headed to the basket.
He jumped up, both arms outstretched, to contest the shot, and sophomore Musa Jallow also came over to provide support. Contact was made, and Wesson was whistled for what would be his third foul with 1:42 remaining in the first half. A clearly incensed Chris Holtmann, who had been on the verge of receiving a technical foul earlier in the game, vehemently disagreed with the call, repeatedly insisting that Wesson had gone straight up in his defensive effort and, therefore, hadn’t committed a foul.
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As Edwards was shooting his first free throw, the officials decided they’d had enough and gave Holtmann his second technical of the season. Edwards would hit all four free throws on the possession, pushing Purdue’s lead to a game-high 15 points. It was too much for Ohio State to overcome in what would be a 79-67 loss, its fifth in a row.
After the game, Holtmann didn’t directly go after the officials but was asked what he was told about the play.
“They were adamant that it was on him, and they were adamant that he hit him in the head,” Holtmann said. “I asked them multiple times. They were adamant that there was a foul and it was on him and that he was hit in the head. I didn’t at that time say go check the monitor. It was multiple guys that they were convinced of that.”
Multiple views of the replay are inconclusive, but it’s fair to describe it as a borderline call. In this case, it was one that had a direct impact on Ohio State’s chances of snapping its losing streak and continued a trend of Wesson finding himself in crippling foul trouble. It’s an issue Holtmann has raised with Big Ten officiating supervisors.
“There’s no question it was a critical call and I made it clear to them multiple times in various ways that that was a really critical point,” Holtmann said. “You’re limiting one of our interior guys and currently our leading scorer. I asked them coming out of halftime if they reviewed it, and they said again, it was a foul. They said they did review the film and it was a foul. It’s not the reason we lost the game, but if you’re asking me to describe the conversations, that’s what I’m describing.”
The Buckeyes would rally without him. More on that in a minute. In this specific case, Holtmann was asked if his reaction was to that foul call or the pressures of a growing losing streak.
“It’s not been an easy stretch, that’s for sure,” he said. “I don’t know. I just adamantly disagreed with the call. We work on verticality every day. I’ve had conversations with the people that make these (calls) about the way we’ve been officiated, Kaleb in particular. But you’ve got to move on from those situations. I wish I wouldn’t have gotten the technical, but I just didn’t think it was just the right call.”
Wesson would foul out and finish with six points on 1-of-4 shooting. During this losing streak, Wesson has averaged 4.2 fouls per game and fouled out twice.
In this case, though, even Purdue coach Matt Painter gave some credit to the sophomore.
“Obviously he didn’t get a good whistle tonight,” he said. “You could say we were fortunate for that. We were fortunate he got a couple of tough calls.”
The rally and the silver lining
Wesson would pick up his fourth foul with 16:45 to play when he was called for a charge against Grady Eifert as he tried to drive the basket from the perimeter. Purdue led 48-34 at that point, and the wheels could have easily come off for the Buckeyes.
Instead, a lineup consisting of C.J. Jackson, Luther Muhammad, Justin Ahrens, Musa Jallow and Andre Wesson started carving away. First, it was Wesson hitting a three-pointer with two seconds left on the shot clock. Then it was five straight possessions where the Buckeyes made a field goal. In order:
- Ahrens hits a three-pointer
- Muhammad hits a three-pointer
- Wesson scores inside
- Wesson scores on a drive
- Ahrens hits a three-pointer
It all added up to a 16-6 run that forced Painter to call a timeout with 12:29 to play and the Purdue lead down to 54-50. The lineup came mostly out of necessity with Kaleb Wesson on the bench and Kyle Young missing his first game with a stress fracture in his lower right leg.
“Obviously with KY being out, it definitely hurt us with the size, but I think it was pretty good with me at the five,” Andre Wesson said. “I think we played pretty well. That’s something we can build on.”
That lineup had never been used this season. Wesson said he’s not sure the Buckeyes ever even practiced with it. But in this instance, it was effective.
“I think they did a really good job competing tonight, both (Jallow and Wesson) did,” Holtmann said. “It helps when you’re making shots, too. Justin did as well. I thought Andre’s spirit and competitiveness really carried this group. That was good to see. I do think Andre provides some versatility because he’s longer and he’s physical.”
It ultimately wasn’t sustainable. Ahrens ran out of gas in playing a career-high 17 minutes, and the younger Wesson would pick up a fourth foul, but it got the Buckeyes back into a game that looked to have already been decided.
“Our focus today was just to try to get things moving side to side and trying to find our team’s best shot,” Jallow said. “We know who can do what on our team, so just trying to find guys in their spots and execute that.”
Young’s absence wasn’t the only change for the Buckeyes. Freshman Duane Washington Jr. was inserted into the starting lineup in place of graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods, giving him the second start of his career.
Washington has shown himself to be one of the few players capable of consistently creating his own offense. However, he was only able to play 9:52 because Holtmann said he was sick.
“Duane was ill last night, so I think there was a fatigue factor,” the coach said. “He was up the whole night, so that was part of the reason (for his performance). He had the flu the whole night and we tried to do as much as we could to get his strength to where it needed to be, but I did not think he was providing the kind of energy or effective play and I’m sure part of that was his illness.”
And yet, he replaced Woods in the lineup and still took more shots from the floor. Washington was 1 of 4 with three rebounds, one assist and one turnover with a minus-2 rating. Woods, in 16:52, missed his only field goal attempt, finished with two points, did not have a rebound and had two assists and one turnover with a minus-8 rating.
It marked the fourth time this season Woods has not made a field goal. Holtmann was asked if he is turning the page on some of Woods’ responsibilities.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “I believe in Keyshawn and I believe he can help our team. He’s done a lot for our team. We’ve got to work to get him back in a good rhythm.”
There are no moral victories in Division I men’s college basketball, and to pretend otherwise is folly. And still, there are positives to take from this Ohio State loss – perhaps more than in any game during this losing streak save for the loss to Michigan State that started it all.
A team looking for some offensive confidence saw Andre Wesson regain his in a big way. Only one final missed three-pointer kept him from a perfect shooting night, and the junior finished 9 of 10 from the floor and 4 of 5 from three including a half-court buzzer-beater to close the first half. His 22 points were a career high.
“I think we played pretty hard,” he said. “Last few games, we played hard, but I think today we stepped up a little bit and that’s something we can definitely take away from the game.”
Jallow, too, was a spark. Averaging 13.3 minutes per Big Ten game this season, Jallow played a career-high 31 minutes against the Boilermakers and was 5 of 7 from the floor, 2 of 4 from three and had a team-high six rebounds. His 12 points are a season-high.
When the ball was swung his way, Jallow didn’t shy away from taking a shot. That’s been missing from the Buckeyes during this streak.
“I feel like we can all do better and try to get guys in good spots to where they feel comfortable letting it go,” he said. “Just trying to boost each others’ confidence. It’s been a tough stretch of games. We just want to stay together and keep pushing through.”
Ahrens also made a case for further playing time, going 2 of 5 from the floor – all from three-point range – and adding five rebounds. He was plus-1 for the game, the only Ohio State player with a positive mark.
“Justin’s got a great attitude and that allows him to be ready to play well,” Holtmann said. “He’s got to continue to learn and be more detailed defensively and he’s got to do a better job taking care of the ball, but I was really pleased with, he’s just a terrific kid. Great addition to our team. He had five rebounds. I thought he took, for the most part, good shots, and he was ready to shoot. He was certainly a positive.”
“Anytime you lose five straight, it definitely sucks. Especially this one, it really hurts, but the season goes on. But they don’t stop playing. We’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can at Nebraska.” – Andre Wesson