Experienced Ohio State roster green when it comes to March Madness

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra

Three years ago in Boise, Idaho, a young Musa Jallow was given a piece of advice that stuck with him.

A freshman who had graduated high school a year early, Jallow had helped an Ohio State program under first-year coach Chris Holtmann reach the 2018 NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence.

More role player than featured performer, Jallow’s playing time had ebbed and flowed leading into a first-round game against South Dakota State in Taco Bell Arena. As that game approached, walk-on Joey Lane, in his third year with the program, had a message for his teammate.

Ohio State guard Musa Jallow (2), here scrapping for a loose ball with Michigan's Brandon Johns Jr. in the Big Ten tournament, has 55 minutes of NCAA Tournament experience, the most among the Buckeyes in OSU games.

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“Joey Lane was always in my ear, like, ‘This doesn’t happen often. Going to the tournament is something crazy. You’re getting a nice little ride, getting to go your first year. This is really special,’ ” Jallow told The Dispatch. “He really emphasized that for me.”

Lane had waited three years to get there. Now, as No. 2 seed Ohio State prepares to open March Madness with a Friday game against 15th-seeded Oral Roberts at Purdue’s Mackey Arena, it’s Jallow who brings some of the most extensive tournament experience to a roster that is game experienced but tournament green.

He is one of four active Buckeyes to have experienced March Madness. Ohio State lasted to the second round in 2018 before losing to fourth-seeded Gonzaga in Boise and the next season lost at the same point, to No. 3 seed Houston in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

CJ Walker (2) logged 86 minutes and scored 21 points in NCAA Tournament games as a freshman and sophomore guard at Florida State.

Point guard CJ Walker has the most NCAA experience among OSU players, totaling 86 minutes and 21 points in six NCAA Tournament games while at Florida State. Jallow has 55 minutes and 17 points in four games for the Buckeyes. Duane Washington Jr. has played 20 minutes, scoring six points, in four games while Justin Ahrens played one minute and did not score in one game.

Kyle Young, whose status is uncertain after suffering a concussion in Friday’s win against Purdue, has totaled 12 minutes in two appearances but did not score.

These Buckeyes, however, have played a lot of basketball.

Justice Sueing’s 93rd career college game will be his first in the NCAA Tournament. The Oral Roberts game will be Seth Towns’ 80th game. With an average of 1.98 years of time in college per player, Ohio State is the 98th-oldest team in Division I. No member of the Golden Eagles has played in the NCAA Tournament.

Further helping mitigate that inexperience is Ohio State’s run in last week’s Big Ten tournament, where the Buckeyes won three games in as many days before losing to Illinois in the final.

“You’re aware of the fact that most of our guys have not played because the tournament didn’t happen last year,” Holtmann said. “What are our nerves going to be? It helped going through a (Big Ten) tournament experience, but at this point it’s win or go home.”

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During those four days in Indianapolis, Washington scored 92 points. Of his six NCAA Tournament points, three came on free throws.

“Guys’ emotions are high and super excited to finally be able to play in the Big Dance again and get back to what it feels like,” he said. “My freshman year, I only played a couple minutes. Got in there and pretty sure I hit a three against Iowa State.”

For Jallow, the first experience three years ago felt different once the Buckeyes began film work for South Dakota State and the stakes became clearer.

“Coming in as a freshman, you think in the regular-season games you have to be so high-level and detailed and every game is so big,” he said. “And then you get to the tournament and it’s a whole other level, like exponentially, and college basketball was already exponentially harder than high school. It was very eye-opening.”

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That feeling never goes away, Jallow said. After coming off the bench in both games as a freshman, he started 2019 NCAA games against Iowa State and Houston for the 11th-seeded Buckeyes, and played 40 total minutes in Tulsa.

Hearing his name announced as a starter inside the BOK Center before helping beat Iowa State was a special memory.

“I remember going there and walking out there for the tip and you’re like, ‘Yo, I’m starting for a high-level team in the highest level of basketball aside from the NBA,’ ” Jallow said. “It’s pretty cool.”

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)

Inside: A look at Oral Roberts guard Max Abmas, the nation’s leading scorer.