Kaleb Wesson has been the focal point of the Ohio State offense over the last three games.
Coming into the season with a career high of 18 points, the sophomore forward matched that against South Carolina State and exceeded that in his next game, scoring 19 points against Samford.
Wesson continued his key role in the Ohio State offense in St. John Arena: the same place his father played in. In Friday’s 89-62 win against Cleveland State, he led the team with 19 points, matching his career high, making eight of 15 attempts from the floor.
When you ask Wesson about the groove he’s been in, about the integral role he’s played in the offense in the last three games of Ohio State’s six-game winning streak to start the 2018-19 season, he does not mention himself. It’s all about the players around him.
“I feel I have more opportunities because of my teammates,” Wesson said. “My teammates stepped up early in the year. Creighton, me and C.J. [Jackson] didn’t play very well and we still won the game because people stepped up. I feel if more people step up, I will get more shots.”
He said his teammates move the ball around on the outside, finding an easier angle for the big man in the middle, finding an ability to pin defenders in the low post.
But for a team that lost a lot of its forward depth right before the season began, with Micah Potter announcing his transfer from the program prior to its first game against Cincinnati on Nov. 7, many of the questions revolved around the same general topic.
Wesson is only one player, and with only two other true “big men” on the roster —sophomore forward Kyle Young and freshman forward JaeDon LeDee — how would Ohio State be able to be consistent in the paint? How would Ohio State be able to play big?
It’s setting the identity of Ohio State, no matter the personnel the team has available.
It’s something that was planned for in the second half against Cleveland State.
“The plan was to get the ball inside,” Wesson said. “Every single time, we try and play inside out.”
In the second half, Wesson led the team with 10 points, connecting on four of seven shots from the floor.
In Wesson, Ohio State is able to set the tone for the rest of the team in that area, something that Cleveland State head coach Dennis Felton had to prepare for.
“We know that when he is in the game, they want to run their offense through him. They want to do a lot of things that end up being about four out, one in to get him the ball,” Felton said. “He’s very heavy and wide and strong and he’s terrific at using his girth to seal for angles. That came as no surprise.”
Like Wesson said, though, it’s not just him, barrelling over opponents in the paint, using his size and girth to bully opponents in the low post. It’s his teammates, getting him in the right positions, finding the mismatches defensively.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said he gives credit to Wesson not being trapped so much, finding one-on-one matchups down low as opposed to what Creighton did, double teaming the forward in the paint.
But even in those situations, Holtmann said Wesson has found a way to succeed.
“What people have to understand is Kaleb, he understands how to play,” Holtmann said. “If there are two guys on him, he’s going to pass the ball out. There’s some teams that are really going to try and limit his scoring and he’s going to have to recognize that and be able to make the right basketball play.”
But Wesson still can’t do everything in the paint by himself, and the numbers have shown that. The Buckeyes recorded 38 rebounds to Cleveland State’s 37, a team that its head coach described as struggling with its post presence.
Much of the success for the Vikings against Ohio State was their ability to get second chances in the paint, recording 12 offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points.
Ohio State sophomore forward Kyle Young showed a bit of promise in that area, recording three offensive boards in Friday’s win, showing a hustle in the paint, getting to the loose balls, something Holtmann said the team, as a whole, did not do a good job in against Cleveland State.
Wesson understands how important offensive boards are to a team’s success.
“We definitely have to pick up our offensive rebounding,” Wesson said. “That’s a big key, getting extra possessions in the game, getting extra shots.”
To Holtmann, it’s simpler than that. It’s rebounding in general, offensive and defensive boards. That’s what is going to give Ohio State that staying power.
Even if his offensive numbers decrease, that’s where Wesson’s staying power will be, where his impact will be made: on the glass.