Even when active on the roster, sophomore forward Kyle Young’s impact wasn’t obvious.
Before going down with a stress fracture in his right leg against Maryland on Jan. 18, Young averaged 7.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, starting in 12 of the 17 games to begin the season.
But in his return to the team on Thursday, Young proved his value late down the stretch.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann didn’t even expect to play him as much as he did.
“I was worried about his conditioning,” Holtmann said. “In my head, I thought 15 minutes, potentially, depending on foul trouble.”
Fifteen minutes turned to 25 minutes, but again, Young’s statline didn’t stand out — six points and six rebounds, albeit while going 3-for-3 from the field.
Without the exciting numbers, Young’s plays down the stretch of the game are what gave Ohio State just enough to pull out a 74-70 win against Penn State, a team it hasn’t defeated in the past three tries.
Young found himself with the ball at the basket with his team down one point and just over a minute to go. Instead of rushing the shot opportunity, Young exhibited patience, waiting for junior forward Lamar Stevens to come down after the block attempt, leaving the sophomore forward an open layup, putting the Buckeyes up 71-70.
“I thought his shot-fake finish was big there late, showed great poise,” Holtmann said. “[Young] rebounded it well, played with activity, you know, that’s who Kyle is, we’ve missed that.”
Ohio State would not give that lead up the rest of the game, which again was assisted by Young.
This time on the defensive end, it was Stevens attacking the basket with Young defending. Again, Young got the better of him, blocking Penn State’s leading scorer with 38 seconds to play.
“I know he was hungry to be back, so he didn’t need too much motivation to come into the game and give his all,” freshman guard Luther Muhammad said. “We just told him to come in, continue to play his game and just play within the team and he had to do good and he did.”
Young’s indent on his team can be situational. But when he has chosen to take an opportunity, he has proven to be reliable.
During Big Ten play, games in which the Buckeyes are 5-6 as opposed to their 10-1 nonconference record, Young has remained a consistent presence.
Ohio State is shooting 43.8 percent as a team in conference play, but Young has made 23 of his 27 attempts in seven games, good for 85.2 percent from the field, highest on the team of anyone besides redshirt junior forward Danny Hummer, who is 1-for-1.
Moving forward, while the Buckeyes continue to look for answers due to a small roster, Young could be the difference maker when the time is needed.
Against Penn State, he proved to be exactly that, even after a four-game absence.
Junior forward Andre Wesson didn’t even think Young was ready to play yet.
“When he said he was playing, I was like ‘You’re playing?,’” Wesson said. “He came in, didn’t miss a beat, he was still out there doing his job, rebounding, being another key part of our defense with blocking shots and everything, so it was good to see.“