Ohio State has been undersized all season.
With sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson viewed by head coach Chris Holtmann as the only true post player on the roster, the Buckeyes have had to play up to teams, attempting to use a roster without a player over 6-foot-9 to match his presence in the paint.
But as Ohio State attempts to end a four-game losing streak, the longest losing streak of the Holtmann era, the Buckeyes have become even smaller.
Holtmann announced Wednesday that sophomore forward Kyle Young had suffered a stress fracture in his lower right leg. The head coach said that despite not having an exact timetable on his recovery, Young would be out for several weeks.
Holtmann complimented Young, saying the sophomore forward had taken a step forward in his ability during the past several weeks.
“We are really proud of him for kind of the growth he has had,” Holtmann said. “He has been instrumental part of this team in every way, so you hate it, No. 1, for him and you obviously hate it for our team, given how important he has been for us.”
Young said he has not been sidelined for an indeterminate amount of time since his freshman year of high school when he broke his leg at the end of the season.
After exacerbating the injury after taking a hard fall in Friday’s loss against Maryland, Young said his focus has now turned to how he can help the team even when he is not on the court.
“When you first hear something like that, whenever you have to sit out anything, even if it’s just a practice, I was disappointed, I was sad,” Young said. “I want to be out there playing with these guys. Right now, I just have to focus on rehab, things like that and being the best teammate I can and helping them in other ways: my energy on the bench and stuff like that.”
In Young’s absence, Holtmann said his minutes will be split between a combination of freshman forward Justin Ahrens, sophomore guard Musa Jallow, who has been practicing at the power forward position in practice, and freshman forward Jaedon LeDee.
With Young, the team’s second-leading rebounder, who has averaged 4.3 boards per game in conference play, Ohio State is near the bottom of the Big Ten in rebounding, averaging 35.5 per game, No. 10 in the conference.
Junior forward Andre Wesson said this has plagued the team all season.
“It definitely hurts, especially to lose someone as valuable as Kyle is. It hurts us, but just keeping that next-man-up mentality and knowing the next guy got to step up and we just have to keep it going,” Andre Wesson said. “It’s something that we have to accept.”
He said that, with a combination of himself and the players that will replace Young’s minutes, like Ahrens and Jallow, they will have to be able to box out earlier, putting themselves in a position to succeed earlier in the post.
This is something Andre Wesson has gotten more comfortable doing, being viewed as the second post player Holtmann relies on behind Kaleb Wesson.
“Just knowing we were already undersized and Kyle going down, just knowing that it’s even worse, I knew that I had to kind of fulfill that role,” Andre Wesson said.
Holtmann said LeDee will have to step up with the loss of Young, saying he has been trying to overcome a learning curve, specifically on the defensive end, learning how to play the post instead of just being the largest guy on the floor and using that to his advantage.
But injuries have not been something Holtmann has had to deal with in his tenure. He said that last season, the team was relatively fortunate, losing only former Ohio State center Micah Potter for an extended period of time with an ankle injury.
However, with trying to keep his team from losing its fifth straight game and with the loss of Young, Holtmann is trying to keep Ohio State from snowballing downward.
“You try and stay away from that kind of thinking where it is nothing can go right for us, we are losing games and now we have lost one of our really important players,” Holtmann said. “I think you just accept it, move on and speak with optimism about the opportunity for more guys.”