Ohio State's Seth Towns experiencing 'dream come true' as NCAA Tournament debut looms

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State forward Seth Towns celebrates a basket against Purdue on Friday. Towns had a season-high 12 points, including five in overtime, in the game.

Seth Towns will bring a lot with him to Mackey Arena on Friday afternoon.

As a child who would go on to become the all-time leading scorer in Northland history, Towns dreamed of playing for Ohio State. Instead, he played and studied his way into the Ivy League, where in 2016 his seven-member freshman class vowed to take Harvard to the NCAA Tournament.

Buckeyes basketball:Ohio State men’s basketball player Seth Towns has long been outspoken about social justice

Injuries prevented that from ever transpiring, chief among them Towns’ left knee. Now a graduate transfer in his first season with the Buckeyes, he’ll finally get to experience March Madness while representing his hometown university. The experience of returning to the NCAA Tournament will be meaningful to the six other scholarship Buckeyes making their postseason debuts, but Towns’ emotions will be uniquely his own when No. 2 seed Ohio State plays No. 15 seed Oral Roberts.

Representing Ohio State: 'It means everything'

“It means everything,” Towns said. “Having this be a dream come true coming here, to be able to represent Ohio State in the tournament and it be my first tournament, those two things together, it couldn’t have been written any better.”

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Towns will enter this stage of the postseason coming off his most extensive playing time since his sophomore season at Harvard during the 2017-18 season, one that ended with a knee injury that would rob him of the next two seasons of basketball. He made his Ohio State debut in a Dec. 19 win against UCLA at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, but has since played sporadically while working toward full health.

After Towns played two minutes in Thursday’s Big Ten tournament opener against Minnesota, he and coach Chris Holtmann had a chat. Holtmann told Towns that his time was coming, and he came away certain that it would be soon.

Ohio State players, from left, Justin Ahrens, Meechie Johnson Jr., Seth Towns, and Duane Washington Jr., take a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to a game against Maryland on Feb. 8. Towns is thrilled that his teammates have joined him in the show of protest. "I’m just really happy to see them expressing themselves in that way,” he said.

Towns steps up during Purdue game

Then Kyle Young suffered a concussion midway through Friday’s Purdue game, and Towns wound up playing a season-high 21 minutes against the Boilermakers. Then he played 21 more in the win against Michigan before logging 28 minutes in the loss to Illinois in Sunday’s championship game.

“I felt good with his mindset, where his head was,” Holtmann said after the Purdue game. “I didn’t know if it would be this game or two games from now, but I did think he would play well. Give the kid credit. It’s a great credit to him.”

A look back: Still growing, Ohio State's Seth Towns comes up big in clutch moments to beat Purdue

Given the time of year, Towns said he had no choice but to put it all out there, give what he knew he could do and trust that his knee would hold up. The result was a season-high 12 points — five in overtime — against Purdue, a season-high seven rebounds in the loss to the Illini and even four blocks against Michigan.

“Apparently I’m a rim protector,” he said with a laugh. “It’s trying to stay ready but also just trying to be the person that my team needs me to be. In terms of my knee, it was a really successful Big Ten tournament, so I’m really happy about that.”

Advocating for social justice on and off the court

He’ll carry all that on his shoulders — the childhood dream, the former teammates, the injury and the journey — when he takes the court again. And before the game begins, as the national anthem plays, Towns is likely to continue the path he’s taken this season of dropping his knee to the hardwood. Ohio State played the anthem while teams were in their locker rooms before home games this season, and Towns has knelt before every away game since the Buckeyes first played on the road against Notre Dame on Dec. 8.

Seth Towns is pressured by Purdue forward Aaron Wheeler on Friday.

That night, he posted a photo of himself kneeling to Twitter with the message, “Justice for Casey Goodson.” Goodson, who on Dec. 4 was shot six times in the back and killed by Franklin County Sheriff's Office deputy Jason Meade, was childhood friends with Towns. Meade is white and Goodson was Black.

At Notre Dame, Towns was the only player to kneel. As the season progressed, as many as six more players have joined him.

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“I would just say this: there’s a long history of oppression in America for Black people as a whole, as a collective, and that’s something very simply that I think not just me but everyone should fight against,” Towns said. “From the individual conversations I’ve had with guys, I think it means a little bit more than just their support. From Duane (Washington) to Jimmy (Sotos) to everyone that kneels with me, that’s them expressing their discontent as well, so I’m just really happy to see them expressing themselves in that way.”

It will likely be a moment Friday that will draw attention. The cause will endure, and the offseason will be an opportunity to enact more social change, but Friday’s moment will pass and the game will get underway. For now, that’s the chief focus for Towns and his teammates.

“Right now I’m just trying to be as locked in as possible,” he said. “We have a really talented Oral Roberts team ahead of us and it’s going to take the utmost focus to take them down. We’re all pretty aware of the challenge we have in front of us.”

That rings true both on and off the court.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

Ohio State vs. Oral Roberts

Where: West Lafayette, Ind.

When: 3 p.m. Friday

TV: CBS (Ch. 10)

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)