Ohio State freshman guard Luther Muhammad pushed his way through the paint, putting a ball up for a contested layup. He turned around, facing his teammates as they went back to their defensive position, clapping his hands, screaming at them “Let’s Go.”
Even with the encouragement, Samford junior guard Myron Gordon raced past the Ohio State defense on the next possession, easily connecting on a layup, two of 16 first half points.
This was the story of the first half for the Buckeyes. In its first game as a ranked team, No. 23 Ohio State came out slow and sluggish, shooting 37.5 percent from the field and making two of 11 3-point attempts while allowing 32 first half points.
With 11:36 to go in the game, Ohio State came to life. Muhammad found redshirt senior Keyshawn Woods on a fastbreak, who went up, connected on the layup and was fouled.
This helped ignite an offensive showcase, a 21-3 run to help No. 23 Ohio State (5-0) defeat Samford (5-1) 68-50 on Tuesday after outscoring the Bulldogs 39-18 in the second half.
Woods said, after trailing by three points going into halftime, Samford gave Ohio State an idea of what it would be seeing every game with a ranking attached to the program.
“This game opened our eyes,” Woods said. “It showed that now, everybody’s going to bring us they best. So now we have to be ready for each game and prepare like we want to win every game”
Kaleb Wesson led Ohio State in scoring, recording 19 points on five of eight attempts from the field. He also made nine free throws on 12 attempts.
Woods also added 14 points in a season-high and team-leading 37 minutes of work.
But Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann started the game with a brand new starting lineup.
Freshman Duane Washington Jr., freshman Jaedon LeDee and Woods received their first starts in an Ohio State uniform while sophomore Musa Jallow made his first start of the season. Senior guard C.J. Jackson was the only remaining player from Holtmann’s normal starting five.
Holtmann said after the game it was “a minor team infraction of being late.”
“It just felt like we needed to address,” Holtmann said. “We had talked about it here for the last week about the importance of that and I just felt like this is the best response I needed to have.”
The new lineup struggled at the start, as Samford came out to on a quick 8-2 run, leading Holtmann to bring in Muhammad and Kaleb Wesson in with 17:34 left in the first half.
Even though he was the only normal starter to start the game for Ohio State, Jackson struggled in the first half, making only one of seven shots from the field, missing all four shots from 3.
He finished the game with eight points, shooting 18.1 percent from the field and recording a team-leading nine rebounds.
Holtmann said Jackson’s offense affected his defense in the first half and that, overall, his assist numbers need to increase while his turnover numbers need to decrease.
“He’s got to play a more consistent floor game,” Holtmann said. “Has to, I just said that exact thing to him in there.”
In the first half, Samford head coach Scott Padgett said the Bulldogs’ game plan was to force Ohio State to face a zone defense, something the Buckeyes have not seen before.
The head coach said the decision was primarily based on Kaleb Wesson in the middle.
“Because they carved up man,” Padgett said. “[Wesson’s] not just big, he plays like a bully. He moves guys around in there. So through either getting the ball to him in a lot of high/low action or off the pick and roll where once you get help, the ball just moves. What it seems to me is they don’t care who scores.”
At the beginning of the second half, Woods tried to put it on himself to bring Ohio State some early life in the second half, but failed to do so. On the first three offensive possessions, the redshirt senior missed a 3, was called on a charge and missed another 3.
While Woods struggled, redshirt junior guard Brandon Austin continued Samford’s momentum, connecting on a 3 to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to six points.
But the Wesson brothers kept Ohio State in the game. Junior forward Andre Wesson and Kaleb Wesson combined to record the first seven points of the second half, with Andre Wesson giving the Buckeyes the 1-point lead with 15 minutes to go in the game.
That offensive success continued, with the Buckeyes going on a 21-3 run to amount to a 52-40 lead with 7:55 to go in the game.
But Woods said the offensive run was not just because of increased scoring opportunities. He said defensive stops were key.
“We stopped letting them get easy scores,” Woods said. “We finally started communicating like we have been in the past, previous games. We did what we do. We played Ohio State basketball.”
In the second half, the Buckeyes limited the Bulldogs to shoot 24.1 percent from the field, making three of eight from deep.
The lead remained after Ohio State shot 50 percent from the field in the second half, despite making only one of nine from 3-point range.
No. 23 Ohio State will try and continue its five-game winning streak to begin the season Friday when the Buckeyes take on Cleveland State in St. John Arena at 8 p.m.