Chris Holtmann received texts from coaches and friends before Friday’s game against Robert Morris telling him to enjoy the moment of his first game as head coach of Ohio State.
He ignored those texts.
Rather than feeling excited for the moment, he said he felt anxious, hoping to provide the 11,128 fans in attendance with a winning game in his debut. He did not disappoint as the Holtmann-era of Ohio State men’s basketball began with a resounding win as the Buckeyes (1-0) ran away to an easy 95-64 victory against Robert Morris (0-1).
Ohio State finished the game going 40-for-67 from the field compared to just 23-of-65 for the Colonials.
Though the Buckeyes turned over the ball 19 times, they made up for it by dominating in the paint, finishing the game with 51 rebounds to Robert Morris’ 23.
The Buckeyes dominated the game nearly across the board, but it was the turnovers that stood out the most to the head coach.
“The 19 turnovers is my overriding thought right now,” Holtmann said after the game. “They forced us into some things and then we had some foolish plays as well.”
Playing in his first game since Jan. 1, redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop provided the spark Holtmann’s Buckeyes needed throughout the game, finishing with a team-leading 19 points and 11 rebounds.
A primary question mark heading into the season was Ohio State’s depth at point guard. Junior C.J. Jackson was a bench player last season, but was expected to step up and be the starter at the one being that he was the lone natural point guard. He quickly impacted the game, making Ohio State’s first block of the season at 1:07 into the game and the first basket of the season for the Buckeyes. Jackson finished the game with seven points, three rebounds and six assists.
All night Jackson was on point with his passing. At 14:18, he found freshman forward Kaleb Wesson under the net on a pick-and-roll play, leading Wesson to the bucket for an easy lay-up. Then with 5:12 left in the first half, Jackson floated an alley-oop pass to freshman guard Musa Jallow, who finished for the dunk to put the Buckeyes ahead 34-19.
Ohio State stumbled briefly out of the gate and fell behind 6-2 to Robert Morris. But with 16:59 remaining, redshirt senior guard Kam Williams made a 3-pointer to give the Buckeyes a 7-6 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
It was all Ohio State from there. The Buckeyes went on an 18-5 run to plant themselves firmly out in front of the Colonials 25-11.
Bates-Diop said the slow start for the team simply came down to nerves in the team’s first regular season game.
“Just first game jitters,” Bates-Diop said. “And then we obviously cleaned it up quick as we could.”
Shortly after the Buckeyes had put themselves ahead, Jallow stole the ball away from junior forward Malik Petteway and raced towards the basket before driving home a dunk with 11:23 remaining for the first two points of his collegiate career. He finished the game with 11 points and three rebounds.
As Jallow ran away with the basketball, a simple thought lingered in his mind as nothing but the basket stood in front of him.
“Don’t trip over my foot,” Jallow laughed. “That’s probably the first thing and then the second thing is just dunk it as hard as you can, just try to get the crowd into it. But it’s really exciting.”
Jallow was not alone in stealing the show with his flashy plays. Young drove home a loud dunk with 0:51 remaining in the game. Eleven seconds later, he finished another as the fans stood up and remainded on their feet until the end of the game.
The freshmen — Jallow, Wesson and forward Kyle Young — all proved to be crowd-pleasers throughout the game, and all played meaningful minutes for the team. Jallow, Young and Wesson each finished with impressive stat lines, registering 11, four and 13 points, respectively, in the contest. Jallow finished with three rebounds, Young with three and Wesson with seven rebounds.
Holtmann said he did not enter the game with a number in mind for minutes on the freshmen, but as he has said all offseason, he knew the three would see the court. And with each one delivering some thrilling moments throughout the game, Holtmann said the move to use them will pay off down the road.
“I think I knew that we were try to go a rotation is about nine or 10 deep right now, and we’ll try to, I would like to play guys now to get a feel for in how we can be moving into the later parts of the season,” Holtmann said. “But I think we had some good moments from everybody on the bench and we also had some moments that we can take film from and say, ‘Hey, listen, we’ve got to do this better.’”
Unlike the first half, the Buckeyes came out firing on all cylinders to open up the second. On their first possession just 17 seconds into the half, sophomore center Micah Potter soared over the defense in the post to electrify the Buckeye crowd with a dunk. The next possession, Jackson missed a 3-pointer, but Bates-Diop recovered the rebound and scored five seconds later on a layup.
With 16 minutes left in the game, Bates-Diop attempted a layup and missed, but fought through traffic to collect his own rebound and knock it in on a second layup attempt with 15:55 remaining.
Another steal by the Buckeyes 14 seconds later, this time from Jallow, led to the freshman’s third dunk of the night to put the Buckeyes out in front 73-43. Robert Morris was forced to call a timeout.
The Buckeyes are back in action when they host Radford at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Schottenstein Center.