No. 16 Ohio State suffered another loss in its 72-62 loss to Syracuse on Wednesday night. Late in the second half, freshman guard Luther Muhammad took a hard fall and was escorted off the court with the help of the training staff.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said after the game that Muhammad had suffered a shoulder dislocation. The head coach said Tuesday that he is out indefinitely and there is no timetable for his return, saying he is doubtful for the Big Ten opener against Minnesota on Sunday.
“It is a significant impact, but we’ve got confidence in the next guys in the rotation being able to step up in his absence,” Holtmann said.
The head coach was not sure who would take Muhammad’s place in the starting lineup, saying he is thinking about how different lineups gel together, how specific players compliment each other when on the floor together.
Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson said the loss of Muhammad is big because of his defensive ability, but the different guards on the roster are ready.
“Everybody is going to be ready like I always talk about. Everybody’s been ready since June,” Wesson said. “Losing him is huge because he is one of our better defenders … so he’s a loss, but we are going to have experience coming off the bench.”
But Holtmann’s first thought was not who would replace Muhammad in the starting lineup. It was on senior guard C.J. Jackson, a player who the head coach expects to step up in a major way defensively.
“C.J. Jackson has to defend better than what he has through this part of the season,” Holtmann said. “He’s more capable of that than what he has shown and I think having Luther alongside him has allowed him to maybe be a little bit looser in that area. So we are going to need more because he is capable of it.”
Holtmann said he did have two guards in mind when it comes to taking more of a major role in the absence of Muhammad: redshirt senior Keyshawn Woods and freshman Duane Washington Jr.
Through the first seven games of the season, both Woods and Washington have contributed consistent minutes off the bench, with the redshirt senior averaging eight points per game, shooting 45.7 percent from the floor with a team-leading 22 assists. Washington, in his first season on the team, is leading the team in 3-point shooting, connecting on 13 of 29 attempts from deep. The 13 made 3s is also tied for the team lead.
Washington said he was prepared for an increased role, earning “starter’s minutes” as Holtmann said in the near future.
“I’ll be ready for whatever coach needs me to do,” Washington said. “That’s what we practice every day for, that’s what workouts are for. Whatever he needs me to do, I’ll be there for it.”
But Muhammad’s absence is not only about his defensive ability. Washington said Muhammad brings an emotion and a passion to the game, an energy that is not seen in every program around the country. The freshman guard said he saw it in Muhammad’s defense, clapping on defense, finding his way to the team’s best offensive player.
Holtmann did not know how Muhammad’s injury would affect the spirit of the team moving forward. At this point, that was not his main focus.
“Our first concern in all this is Luther’s health. It’s not by any stretch career damaging or anything along those lines,” Holtmann said. “It’s a significant injury that will need time to heal. How it affects the life of our team, I’m interested to see.”
But in his absence, Washington sees himself becoming that emotional leader for Ohio State.
“I definitely feel like I can help with that missing piece for however long he will be gone,” Washington said. “Hopefully he will be back soon, but most definitely.”
Wesson said this was something he saw in Washington from the first time he visited Ohio State.
The sophomore forward said the team was “dog tired” when Washington came, having an open gym for him and another recruit after already having a team workout and a lift.
But Washington was different than other recruits, according to Wesson.
“He was just like ‘pick it up.’ He was telling us ‘pick it up. Let’s play for real. I’m not trying to play if you are not playing for real.’ And we were just sitting there looking at him like, ‘This young guy don’t know what it is to play ours yet. What?’” Wesson said. “Ever since then, I just knew he’s intense, he wants to do this, he wants to be better, he wants to be great.”
Washington said he used that open gym to test himself, to see of he is build to play at the college level, to play at Ohio State.
With the loss of Muhammad, Washington and the rest of the roster will have to bring that energy, to “pick it up” in his absence.