Ohio State will be without a key cog in its starting lineup just as the Buckeyes hit the most pivotal stretch of the season.
With redshirt senior guard Kam Williams being suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules prior to Ohio State’s game against Illinois on Sunday, head coach Chris Holtmann will need to find production that Williams will no longer be able to provide until his return.
Holtmann is not expecting the weight to fall on the shoulders of one guy. He said this is going to be a team effort to collectively fill the void in the lineup Williams leaves. This dilemma comes at a time the Buckeyes are heading to face No. 3 Purdue Wednesday and later play road games against Penn State and No. 24 Michigan.
Holtmann said Ohio State might be without Williams at Purdue, but that decision has not been made yet.
“We expect him back at some point, but it’s going to be a day-to-day decision,” Holtmann said. “At this point, he needs to do some things and we need to have more conversations and until I feel comfortable with that I don’t expect him to play.”
The decision on Williams’ suspension was announced before the Illinois game, but has been an issue in the mind of Holtmann days before.
“I think it was something that we were in the process of kind of deciding on the last couple days, but Saturday I think we knew for sure, Saturday night exactly, what that was all kind of going to look like,” Holtmann said.
Without Williams against Illinois, Holtmann needed to replace his spot in the starting lineup.
Sophomore forward Andre Wesson replaced Williams in the starting lineup for his first career start. Starting Wesson appeared to be a good call for Holtmann and the Buckeyes initially. With the first bucket of the game he made a left-handed slam for the first score of the game. That turned out to be the last score from Wesson, who finished with one rebound, four personal fouls and three turnovers.
But this might not be as easy of a spot to fill as expected. Williams averages just 8.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.5 assists, but he plays more than 22 minutes per game and a role that is challenging for the remaining teammates to fill.
The Buckeyes found out in practice and were able to make adjustments before the Illinois game, but Bates-Diop said that Wesson was a big change from Williams.
“‘Dre [Wesson] can shoot it, not as much as Kam obviously but there’s a bigger body,” Bates-Diop said. “We switch a lot more with ‘Dre out there so it was a little weird in the beginning, but we figured it out as the game went on.”
Against Illinois, a team that is among the best in the nation at forcing turnovers, Williams could have been useful for the Buckeyes. There were times senior forward Jae’Sean Tate was struggling and looked for someone open around the arc, where Williams would have normally been. Without him there, the Buckeyes were not as effective as they could have been.
The Buckeyes need Williams for his 3-point shooting and tempo he brings to the offense. But it is no secret that Williams has struggled defensively in his time at Ohio State.
Wesson brings good defense to the lineup, but has struggled with putting up points for the Buckeyes. He has the lowest field goal percentage on the team of those that regularly play, just behind freshman guard Musa Jallow.
Jallow finished with 13 minutes against the Fighting Illini, but did not attempt any shots. He totaled one rebound and one turnover. But he is another guy Holtmann expects to pick up more minutes in place of Williams.
Jallow started 10 games early in the season over Williams at shooting guard and performed well for the Buckeyes, averaging 5.8 points per game through his first eight games.
But Jallow has not scored since Big Ten play resumed when the Buckeyes defeated Iowa on Jan. 4. In Ohio State’s last game against Indiana, Jallow finished with two personal fouls and two turnovers.
The Buckeyes did not get the production they needed from Jallow, but they spread Williams’ shots out among the other Buckeyes rather than putting in one guy. They tried to make it a team effort to make up those shots that would be missing from Williams.
“Obviously taking away Kam’s nine or 10 field goal attempts a game, however many he takes a game, it’s going to be spread out really across the board,” Bates-Diop said. “With Kam not being out there, his shot attempts get spread out amongst the other four guys out there.”
The team ran with the starting forwards and redshirt senior guard Andrew Dakich, who stepped up and had a career-high eight shot attempts. Dakich also had a lot more minutes because Holtmann said the Buckeyes needed another ball handler out on the court.
Holtmann said he expects Williams to return this season, but that date remains a question mark. With it being unknown how long Williams will be out — at a crucial point in the season — the Buckeyes need to collectively step up and fill the hole Williams left in this team to remain in the hunt for a Big Ten title.
“We’re family. We accept what happened and it obviously hurts a little bit, but we had faith in Dre to come up and make the plays. He did this game, and everybody else did,” Bates-Diop said. “Dakich made some huge plays down the stretch and everybody played a little bigger of a role than they usually do and that says to our maturity and togetherness as a team.”