Andre Wesson’s return will be a big boost to Ohio State on the defensive side

Adam Jardy
With Andre Wesson, above, sidelined for the past two games, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has deployed a three-guard offense. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

The mixing and matching Ohio State has had to do while playing without Andre Wesson could be coming to an end.

After suffering a fractured eye socket during the final moments of the men’s basketball team’s season-opening win against Cincinnati, the senior forward has resumed participating in some practice sessions and could be back in uniform by the end of the week — perhaps as soon as Monday night’s game, when the 16th-ranked Buckeyes host Stetson.

Wesson’s return would bring an experienced, versatile defender back into coach Chris Holtmann’s rotation. It could also signify a return to the Buckeyes playing more traditional lineups.

Against the Bearcats, Ohio State played with three guards on the court for only 15.5 percent of the game, a figure buoyed by Wesson’s departure from the game with 5:57 to play. Four days later against UMass Lowell, that number climbed to 60.5 percent of the game as sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. replaced Wesson in the starting lineup.

And in the 25-point win against No. 10 Villanova on Wednesday, Ohio State exclusively played three-guard lineups with Washington and classmate Luther Muhammad helping to lead the way. Washington has played 27 minutes in each of the past two games, tying for the second-most minutes played in his career. Against Villanova, Muhammad played the second-most minutes on the team, and the two combined for 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting while also keeping Villanova from getting into any sort of offensive rhythm.

“I thought they’ve been good these last two games,” Holtmann said of Muhammad and Washington after the Villanova win. “I thought (the Wildcats) would come and try to post those guys, and they did. I don’t think they would’ve done that as much with Andre, but I thought we were able to limit them from getting there enough, and I thought those guys making shots and spreading the floor really helped our offense.”

Wesson’s absence is most felt on the defensive end, where he has told Holtmann during the summer that proving himself as an elite Big Ten perimeter defender is among his personal goals for his senior season. He showed as much against Cincinnati, where he helped lock down All-America candidate Jarron Cumberland. He would finish with 13 points, but four of them came after Wesson left the game.

“I hate that we’ve got to play without Andre, but it’s kind of next man up,” Muhammad said. “Everyone knows they’ve got to contribute more, because that’s a big loss.”

That includes Washington, who is better known as a shooter than a defender.

“I think consistency is the key for him,” Holtmann said. “I do think he’s got the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive it more.

“Duane had a reputation for seeing only the rim, and I think for him he’s got to continue to grow in that area of making guys better, helping guys get better.”