Buckeyes say skirmish at Michigan lit a fire
The frustration of a trying month was seemingly boiling over on the court Tuesday at the Crisler Center.
Staring down a 1-6 record in January, the Ohio State men’s basketball team trailed Michigan by 12 points when tempers flared after a missed three-pointer.
Sophomore Kaleb Wesson, who had just been called for a foul, was jawing with Michigan’s Zavier Simpson when Jordan Poole got in his face and started talking. Wesson responded, Michigan’s Jon Teske put his hands on him, and Wesson angrily pushed them away.
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No punches were thrown, but four technical fouls were assessed — two on each team — and the game ultimately culminated with a 16-point win for the Wolverines.
Unraveling? Graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods professed the opposite three days later as Ohio State prepared to play Rutgers on Saturday at Value City Arena.
“We got closer after that Michigan game,” Woods said. “With the incident that happened in the game, we stuck by one another and stayed strong and kept fighting and we kept being together as a team. Certain things like that will bring you closer together than you think.”
Asked how he addressed the incident with his players, coach Chris Holtmann stood up for Wesson.
“The kid put his hands on Kaleb,” he said. “No one should put their hands on one of our players ever. Ever. So, I thought he showed restraint. If another team puts their hands on a player, that should be addressed. I thought he showed composure maybe when I was a 19-year-old I might not have shown. Good for him.”
Holtmann stopped short of saying such a situation could spark a surge for the Buckeyes, but after a stretch that he called the toughest of his career, it probably couldn’t hurt.
If you pick a statistical category, odds are it will reflect the January results. Among the seven most-used players, the best individual plus-minus rating goes to Musa Jallow at minus-17. Freshman Luther Muhammad has a team-low minus-52 rating, just ahead of Woods at minus-49.
Ohio State’s four worst offensive efficiency performances have come during the stretch, all in losses, while six of the eight worst defensive efficiency performances came during the same stretch. All six of those games were losses, too.
Yet the Buckeyes remain listed as a likely NCAA Tournament team. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as a No. 10 seed in a bracket projection released Friday, and CBS’ Jerry Palm has them as a No. 9 seed. The NCAA’s NET rankings, which will be used to help the committee seed the tournament, has Ohio State at No. 38 in the nation.
Starting with Rutgers, Ohio State’s next four games are against teams with a combined Big Ten record of 9-31. Despite Rutgers’ earlier win over the Buckeyes, it’s still a much more manageable stretch than the seven-game gauntlet January provided.
Those seven opponents took a .648 conference winning percentage into Friday night’s games. After playing four of seven January games on the road, three of Ohio State’s next four games will be at Value City Arena. Woods said the last two days of practice leading into Friday had been among Ohio State’s best days of preparation this season.
“The tough days aren’t over,” Holtmann said. “We’re trying to dig in for the long haul and continue to improve. I think we’ve got a group that wants to be coached and has a good daily approach. I want it to be even better, but I’ve been pleased with our daily approach.”