Seth Towns makes 'euphoric' long-awaited debut for Ohio State in win against UCLA

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Seth Towns cheers on his Ohio State teammates during a game against UMass Lowell on Nov. 29.

CLEVELAND – It had been a while, but Seth Towns still knew to keep ready.

His Ohio State teammates were battling with UCLA inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse as part of the CBS Sports Classic, and Towns had privately given coach Chris Holtmann the all-clear to make his debut earlier in the day. So when the Buckeyes would head back to the bench area following timeouts, Towns would move a little further down the baseline and put in a half-speed sprint or two before the action would resume.

When he was running, Towns had a thought going through his head.

“The competitor I am, I just wanted to be the best I could be when I was out there,” Towns told The Dispatch. “Staying loose, staying ready and when he called my name I was loose.”

The moment that was more than a thousand days in the making finally happened with 2:58 to play in the first half and Ohio State trailing 35-34. When Musa Jallow picked up a foul, Holtmann turned to the bench and called out: “Seth!”

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Towns had already shed his warm-up pants, and as he hopped to his feet his teammates began to cheer as he made his way to the scorers’ table. At the next stoppage, which took place at the 2:47 mark, the public-address announcer called out to an otherwise empty arena: “Seth Towns, checking in for the Buckeyes.”

And for the first time in 1,014 days, Towns was officially on the court for a Division I college basketball game. At the same time, the Harvard graduate transfer and Northland High School’s all-time leading scorer was finally realizing the lifelong dream of playing for the Buckeyes, who would go on to win, 77-70.

It was a lot to process.

“That moment when you’re sitting on the bench and your name is called to get into the game is something a lot of players can point to as a point of nerves, a point of confidence in their respective stories of playing in games,” Towns said. “I hadn’t gotten that in so many years. It was just a euphoric feeling, especially how the bench reacted. Everyone kind of freaked out.”

Holtmann shared that sentiment.

“He has come such a long way,” the coach said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am for him. Thrilled for him. He has a long ways to go, but I’m thrilled for him.”

Towns last played in the 2018 Ivy League tournament, a March 11, 2018, loss to Penn when he scored 13 points. Although he was named the Ivy League player of the year that season as a sophomore, he would miss the following two seasons due to injury and underwent knee surgery last January. He transferred to the Buckeyes in March with two years of eligibility and had an eye on being ready when the season began, but that proved unattainable.

“I had arthroscopic surgery done by one of the best if not the best surgeon for this injury in the entire world,” Towns said. “After a period of time, it’s not like a worry but it’s a wonder, an organic, genuine wonder if I’ll ever get back to feeling the way that I used to. Definitely confident in how my knee has recovered and is still recovering. Long, long process and taking it day by day.”

He fully returned to practice just a few weeks ago and began the process of clearing the necessary hurdles – mental and physical – to returning to game action. After Friday’s practice in Cleveland, Towns told Holtmann he didn’t think he would be ready to play against the Bruins. Then, after Saturday morning’s shoot-around, Towns changed his mind and called the coach.

It set the wheels in motion for his debut. It also set his stomach churning.

“I was telling Gene (Brown) before the game that my stomach was turning,” Towns said. “He was like, ‘Well, did you eat something?’ I said, ‘No, I’m nervous as hell.’ ”

Towns would miss a three-point attempt on his second possession, and he was subbed out with 28 seconds left as the Buckeyes went with a defense-heavy lineup to contest UCLA’s final possession of the half. It added up to 139 seconds of playing time.

It’s just a start. While interviewed for a national college basketball podcast during the summer, Towns was asked what Ohio State fans could expect whenever he returned to the court. Rather than promise points or production or wins, Towns said fans would see how much it meant for him to suit up for the Buckeyes.

It was a sentiment Towns was sorting out after the game.

“I think that feeling hits on the nail all the emotions that went through me today,” he said. “My game can waver, my knee can waver, all that stuff can, but my passion for the game and especially as it pertains to playing for Ohio State, that can never waver.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy