It was not too long ago that Ohio State previously played Northwestern. Coming off two consecutive losses to Illinois and Michigan State, respectively, the Buckeyes returned home and beat the Wildcats 63-49, shooting 46.3 percent from the field and, despite having to face a much larger team that started two centers, had a rebounding margin of minus-1.
Looking back at the film, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said the team played very efficient basketball, overcoming a poor shooting start to play one of the more complete games the Buckeyes had played all season.
But just two weeks after playing Northwestern, Ohio State will be a completely different team, having to play its second game without its leading scorer and rebounder: sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson, who was suspended prior to Saturday’s game against Purdue for a violation of Ohio State athletic department rules.
For Holtmann, after playing without Wesson led to a 35-point loss to the Boilermakers, this means creating an entirely new identity for his team for the final two games of the regular season.
“That’s one of the things that we’re in transition here, trying to figure out: What’s the best way to attack defenses given the fact that much of our offensive game plan and attack from Day 1 has been at least in the large part centered around playing out of the post,” Holtmann said.
Ohio State (18-11, 8-10 Big Ten)
G — C.J. Jackson — Senior, 11.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.4 apg
G — Luther Muhammad — Freshman, 8.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.9 apg
F — Justin Ahrens — Freshman, 3.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.3 apg
F — Andre Wesson — Junior, 8.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.8 apg
F — Jaedon LeDee — Freshman, 3.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.3 apg
Northwestern (12-17 , 3-15 Big Ten)
G — Ryan Taylor —Redshirt senior, 10.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.2 apg
G — Anthony Gaines — Sophomore, 6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.2 apg
F — Vic Law — Redshirt senior, 15.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.1 apg
F — Miller Kopp — Freshman, 4.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
C — Dererk Pardon— Senior, 13.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.9 apg
Holtmann said his main focus remains on the two Northwestern players that he was focused on in Ohio State’s first matchup: redshirt senior forward Vic Law and senior center Dererk Pardon.
Against the Buckeyes on Feb. 20, the two combined for 18 of the Wildcats’ 49 total points, shooting a combined 41.2 percent from the field with 16 of the team’s 36 rebounds.
However, Ohio State had Wesson to help with the post work, leading the team with 22 points and eight rebounds.
Instead, the Buckeyes will have an amalgamation of two freshmen forwards and a hobbled sophomore forward in Kyle Young to make up for Wesson’s lost production.
“When you are missing a big player like Kaleb, with how much he does for us, I think it’s kind of everyone’s job to pick up the slack,” Young said.
Young said he is “not 100 percent yet” from his lower right leg injury he suffered earlier in conference play, limiting his practice reps to be able to play in games, where Holtmann said he is needed.
The sophomore forward said it is tough to keep up with his normal conditioning during practice when he is limited to the exercise bike or other noncourt activities.
“I guess it’s kind of day-by-day now with how it feels soreness-wise and stuff like that,” Young said. “I would like to get back to normal practicing and stuff this year. I guess my leg will be able to tell that with how sore it is. We are not really sure yet.”
But Young said, even if he were healthy, Ohio State is seeking production from the younger players, including freshmen forwards Justin Ahrens and Jaedon LeDee.
Entering the starting lineup in Wesson’s place, LeDee was one of the only bright spots in a dark loss for the Buckeyes against the Boilermakers, finishing with a team-leading 16 points in 22 minutes. Eight of his total points came from 11 attempts from the foul line.
Despite not having the presence the Buckeyes usually have in the middle, junior forward Andre Wesson said Ohio State’s approach can and will remain the same when it takes on Northwestern on Wednesday.
“Just focus more on playing inside out,” Wesson said. “We really didn’t have many post touches against Purdue, and that’s something we mainly do. We got post scorers: KY can score, Jaedon, he showed some times in the Purdue game that he can do that.”
Ohio State will take on Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois, at 9 p.m. Wednesday.