Ugly start, fine finish

Adam Jardy
Ohio State's Kaleb Wesson dunks in the first half against Northwestern for two of his team-high 22 points. [Brooke LaValley]

There was no fatigue to be found for Kaleb Wesson on Wednesday night.

One game removed from a second half where both Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said the sophomore center looked tired during the second half of a loss at the Spartans, Wesson responded in a big way against Northwestern at Value City Arena.

In arguably his most complete performance of the season, Wesson scored 22 points, pulled down eight rebounds and had four assists, and the Buckeyes overcame an ugly start in a 63-49 win over the Wildcats. 

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Wesson did it against a Northwestern team that learned quickly it couldn’t contain him with double teams in the post.

“I thought Kaleb was really good the whole night on both ends,” Holtmann said. “He was assertive.”

During the second half, Ohio State (17-9, 7-8 Big Ten) had 12 assists on 16 field goals and turned the ball over just once. The Buckeyes scored their most points since they had 74 in a win against Penn State four games ago and finished with 18 assists against only eight turnovers.

They were finally able to pull away once someone other than Duane Washington Jr. hit some threes. The freshman guard was 2 of 4 from deep while the rest of the Buckeyes were 0 of 12 until C.J. Jackson and Kaleb Wesson broke the skid with three-pointers on consecutive possessions midway through the second half.

When Wesson added a basket deep in the lande on the next possession, it was a 50-38 lead and Northwestern (12-14, 3-12) called timeout with 8:21 to play. It only delayed the inevitable, as the Buckeyes led by as many as 19 points and were never seriously threatened again.

“We just knew that we really needed this game,” said Washington, who had eight points and also took two charges. “We all bought into a good day of prep and went really hard (Tuesday) and realized we can be really good when we lock in and do what we’re supposed to do.”

Wesson finished with his most points since scoring 27 against Rutgers on Feb. 2. In the four games since, he hadn’t topped 12 points.

“It’s always good to have a big performance, but the best thing is we got the win,” he said. “My teammates found me when I was open. I had a lot of open looks because they were hitting shots.”

Coming off a 13-point second-half performance Sunday at Michigan State, the Buckeyes picked up right where they left off — and brought Northwestern along with them. In a brutal offensive start on both sides, the Buckeyes and Wildcats both missed nine of their first 10 shots. Ohio State didn’t eclipse its second-half point total against the Spartans until a Jackson layup with 7:05 remaining in the half gave it a 14-8 lead.

“I don’t think Chris or I would say it was a beautifully played game, but it was a hard-played game,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “They got a little rhythm there in the second half to get some separation.”

At the break, Ohio State led 24-20 and Wesson had nine of those OSU points on 3-of-8 shooting. His brother, junior forward Andre Wesson, left the game late in the half with what was announced as a right elbow contusion, but he returned to start the second half.

It wasn’t the only injury of note for the Buckeyes. Jackson, who went down clutching his left shoulder as Northwestern’s Barret Benson was called for an illegal screen, came out of the game during a timeout with 16:55 to play and went to the locker room after being checked by the training staff. He, too, returned after a few minutes.

Freshman Justin Ahrens, who did not play during the first half, replaced starter Musa Jallow for the second half. Jallow did not see play after halftime, and Ahrens chipped in four points on two backdoor cuts. Holtmann lauded Ahrens’ engagement from the bench during the first half, saying it earned him the right to start the second.

In the second half against Michigan State and first half against Northwestern, Ohio State was 13 of 45 (28.9 percent) from the field, 3 of 21 (14.3 percent) from three-point range and had 18 turnovers and 37 points.


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