Buckeyes soak in NCAA experience
TULSA, Okla. — Glistening on the edge of town, the BOK Center boasts a massive, transparent glass exterior that looks toward the heart of downtown. On a sunny, warm Thursday in the “Oil Capital of the World,” eight men’s college basketball coaches received a police escort along with their players to preview Friday’s first round of NCAA Tournament action.
It’s a moment for reflection, entering the arena for the first time during the postseason. Slated to play the final game the following night, Ohio State held the final interview slot of the evening and didn’t arrive until late afternoon.
“I think you have an incredible appreciation,” coach Chris Holtmann said, standing in the hallway outside of a cramped Ohio State locker room. “I’m really appreciative of our players and the fact that we had guys step into new roles and grow into new and increased roles and embrace that. Then you had a freshmen and new group including Keyshawn (Woods) that blended in pretty seamlessly.
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“We had our bumps, there’s no question. But we earned the right to be here and I do think the appreciation has been probably from Sunday on, but also now that you’re here, you’re hungry to see how long we can be here.”
There's not a lot of experience on a roster that’s still evolving as Holtmann tries to build the Buckeyes into regular NCAA Tournament participants.
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Entering a first-round Midwest Regional game Friday against No. 6 seed Iowa State, Ohio State had five players with NCAA Tournament experience, and one, Woods — a graduate transfer — had appeared in just one First Four game. Sophomores Kaleb Wesson and Musa Jallow played 19 and nine minutes, respectively, in a two-game run last year.
Sophomore Kyle Young, despite being on the roster and available, did not play against South Dakota State or Gonzaga stuck behind Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate on the depth chart. He was ready for his debut but not content with simply getting into the game.
“Going from freshman year to sophomore year and making a jump into that bigger role, it’s kind of similar," Young said. "I’m just excited for the postseason, excited to be in the NCAA Tournament again. I remember how good of an experience it was last year, even though I didn’t play. I’m excited to be a part of it and we’re ready to take advantage of it.”
A similar sentiment was shared throughout the locker room.
“This is what I came here for," Woods said. "I’m just glad we’re here and I’m just ready to play to make sure we can keep going and keep playing as long as we can.”
After an open practice, the Buckeyes left the court as fans filed out. A few fans congregated near the court, nabbing autographs and holding conversations with the likes of Wesson, Holtmann and freshman Luther Muhammad.
All that was left to do was play the game.