Ohio State basketball | Buckeyes talk March Madness atmosphere, playing to win

Adam Jardy
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said his team was "hungry to see how long we can be here” in the NCAA Tournament going into Friday night's game against Iowa State. [Jeff Roberson/The Associated Press]

TULSA, Okla. – The extra wait made it even sweeter for Kyle Young.

As a freshman, the Ohio State forward was a fully healthy, unused substitute as the Buckeyes played their first NCAA Tournament games in three years. As Ohio State fended off South Dakota State and fell to Gonzaga in a second-round game in Boise, Idaho, Young was an extra-interested bystander with a front-row seat from the bench.

Now, Sunday night when the No. 11 Buckeyes tip off against No. 3 seed Houston in a Midwest regional second-round game, Young is assured of getting back on the court after having made his NCAA Tournament debut two days prior in a 62-59 upset of No. 6 seed Iowa State at the BOK Center.

The nerves will be gone – not that the seemingly unflappable Young seemed to have many to begin with. 

“It was awesome, the atmosphere, everything, just the intensity of the game,” he told The Dispatch. “I know Scoonie (Penn) said the intensity’s just completely different when you’re playing in an NCAA Tournament game. It’s fun to be a part of and I’m really happy we came out with the win.”

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann stuck with his starters for nearly the first seven minutes until his first pair of substitutions came with 13:17 left in the first half. It was then that Young made his debut, replacing Kaleb Wesson. 

He took the court at the same time as freshman guard Luther Muhammad, who likewise was making his debut. Unlike Young last year, though, he had seen action in the Big Ten tournament leading into March Madness.

“It felt great,” Muhammad said. “I mean, the environment was crazy, the atmosphere of the game was crazy. The speed is faster, so the energy is way stronger. It’s just a great feeling, a place you want to be in March. I dreamed it all my life, playing in March Madness. Being here for the first time is a great experience.” 

Freshman Duane Washington Jr. was the third new substitution of the game, subbing in with 9:41 to play in the half. Washington had some important family members in the crowd including his aunt, uncle and grandmother, Annette Fisher. The trio had driven in from Arkansas to see him play and, in the case of his grandmother, to see him face-to-face for the first time since his high school graduation nearly a year ago.

Washington admitted to feeling a little antsy to play given that the Buckeyes were the late game on the second day of the tournament.

“It’s crazy, because you watch all the March Madness games and we played the late Friday night game so we saw three or four games before ours,” he said. “Then obviously growing up you watch every March Madness, so actually being out there and playing, it was a dream come true but it felt like I was ready for the moment. It was really exciting. It was something I dreamed of and couldn’t wait to get out there and do, and it felt like I was in the right place. I felt comfortable once I checked in and I wasn’t too nervous.”

The three were Holtmann’s only reserves of the game to see playing time. All five starters played at least 29 minutes, while graduate transfer Keyshawn Woods played all but 35 seconds of the game.

Young was on the court for 15:27, had three rebounds and missed two shots. Washington had four points in 9:08 and was 1 for 5 from the floor, while Muhammad recorded two turnovers and no other stats in 5:36. 

Given the stakes, Holtmann said he wanted to rely on his older guys and get as many minutes as possible for sophomore center Kaleb Wesson. That was fine by Washington.

“At this point, we’re just trying to play to win,” he said. “I have complete trust in our guys and the coaching staff in whatever they feel is the best rotation, the best minutes played. Whatever that may be to win, I’m all for it. I’m going to go out there and do what I can do and just try to get a win for the team.” 

And when it was over, all three said their phones were plenty active with family members, friends and former teammates all reaching out to congratulate them. Washington got to spend time with his family members back at the team hotel. 

Then it was time to rest and get ready for the Cougars. Maybe there will be time down the road to appreciate the moment, but Muhammad wasn’t there yet Saturday afternoon.

“Nah, not really,” he said. “I just felt like there ain’t no time for that. It’s just time to step up and play your role, be the best person you can be.”