Life was already going to be difficult for Ohio State when it faced No. 14 Purdue on Saturday.
The Boilermakers are No. 3 in the Big Ten in rebounding margin and are averaging 36.6 rebounds per game, while opponents are averaging the second-least amount of rebounds in the conference against Purdue, recording 31.6 per game.
But for an already small Ohio State team, having four players on the roster that are at least 6 feet, 6 inches tall, the Buckeyes will be forced to be even smaller against the Boilermakers.
Ohio State announced Friday that sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson will be suspended for a violation of Ohio State Athletics Department policy. The release stated that he would return at some point this season, but did not specify when.
“As much as we can, we are trying to keep it a private matter,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “Obviously there are some things, some expectations that we have that he needs to meet and he needs to follow through on. And he will do that. I’m confident he will do that.”
Holtmann said his return will be a collective decision between him and the Athletic Department, but that his suspension was based on department policy.
Redshirt senior guard Keyshawn Woods said Wesson addressed the team, saying the players understand the situation.
“We’re all pretty close, especially this team,” Woods said. “We just gotta stay positive.”
Holtmann said Wesson has grown in a lot of areas, including significant development on the floor, leading the team in both rebounds and points.
However, he head coach said he sometimes wants to see players develop both on and off the court more quickly than the reality is.
“I think when you are working with young people, you understand that this is a process,” Holtmann said.
All season, no matter the team Ohio State has faced, Wesson has been the focal point of the offense on the court.
In the Buckeyes’ 90-70 win against Iowa on Tuesday, freshman forward Justin Ahrens described the defensive game plan for the Hawkeyes as a “one-out, four-in” mentality, where Wesson usually faces a double-team. With this, Ahrens found wide-open opportunities from the outside, leading the team with six 3s on 10 attempts.
Wesson still found a way to impact the game down low against the Hawkeyes, recording 18 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double of the season and his first since Dec. 22 against UCLA.
However, even when he is on the court, Wesson has defined Ohio State’s offensive success. In games where Wesson has shot less than 45 percent from the field, the Buckeyes are 1-8. In games where the sophomore forward has shot at least 50 percent from the field, Ohio State is 16-1, losing only to then-No. 8 Michigan State on Jan. 5.
“You don’t have to have studied our team to know how important he’s been for our team,” Holtmann said. “This group and our margin for error not being significant as it is, and he’s been a really important part of our success.”
Ohio State has not had much experience with Wesson off the court. He has played in every game for the Buckeyes this season, missing a start against Samford as a punishment for him being late to game-day preparations.
For Holtmann, he said Ohio State will have to continue to lean on the success of junior forward Andre Wesson, who played all but six seconds against the Hawkeyes on Tuesday. The head coach said that’s not ideal, but him being on the court and staying out of foul trouble will be important.
He also said all the other forwards — freshman Justin Ahrens, freshman Jaedon LeDee and sophomore Kyle Young, who is recovering from a stress fracture in his right leg — will play increased minutes as well. Holtmann also named sophomore guard Musa Jallow, who is 6-foot-5, as a possible replacement.
But Woods recognized that Ohio State will be without its leading scorer and rebounder when the team faces Purdue on Saturday. He said, though, the team will have to continue to play to the best of its ability.
“We will have to continue going, trying to keep this train running without him,” Woods said.