Chris Holtmann said after Sunday’s win over UMass-Lowell the Buckeyes are far from an offensive juggernaut.
They could’ve fooled Villanova.
No. 16 Ohio State (3-0) shot out to a scintillating 9-for-13 start, including five 3-pointers in the first seven minutes of the game, to take an 18-point lead over No. 10 Villanova (1-1) that it would ride to a 76-51 upset win.
“Your players are so laser-focused that you try not to over coach at that point and get in their way to be real honest with you,” Holtmann said. “That’s what I was trying to do.”
Prior to facing a Villanova that boasts a two-inch average height advantage, Holtmann lamented the absence of injured 6-foot-6 senior forward Andre Wesson, replaced by 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Duane Washington.
He did anything but come up small against Villanova, as Washington scored 11 of Ohio State’s first 17 points, including three 3-pointers and a two-handed dunk that brought the home crowd down. Washington led all Buckeyes with 14 points.
“We just went in the game and he was feeling it,” redshirt junior guard CJ Walker said. “I mean you gotta feed the hot hand and just give him the ball in his spots, let him make plays and things like that. He kind of carried us through that first four minutes of the game and he set the tone from there.”
Ohio State shot 60 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3-point range on the night.
Walker followed suit, pouring in 10 points in the first half on a 4-for-4 start. He added seven assists for the game, with one coming on a steal and toss ahead to Washington for his emphatic finish at the rim.
Walker’s steals were two of 10 first half turnovers for the Wildcats, which the Buckeyes converted into 10 points.
When Villanova wasn’t turning it over, they were missing shots.
The Wildcats shot 4-for-23 to start the game, including 2-for-10 on 3-point attempts. Villanova shot 30 percent from the field on the night.
Ohio State junior forward Kaleb Wesson tied a career high by blocking three Wildcat shots in the first half, two of which from Villanova freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
Rated the No. 16 prospect in the 2019 class, Robinson-Earl put up 24 points in the Wildcats’ season-opener, but missed five of his first seven shots against Wesson and the Buckeyes.
It was Wesson’s passing ability that kept the Buckeye lead out of Wildcat grasp in the second half, as the 6-foot-9 big man opened with an alley-oop dish from the 3-point line to junior forward Kyle Young for a dunk. Later he’d find Washington out of a double team in the post for his fourth triple of the game.
“When you have a player that’s gifted and talented playing like he’s playing, it elevates other people too,” Holtmann said.
Before the Buckeyes could shut the door in the first half, Villanova rattled off a 9-0 run to end the first half, courtesy of three consecutive layups from junior guard Collin Gillespie and a quick release 3-pointer from sophomore forward Cole Swider on a fastbreak.
Freshman guard D.J. Carton shot just 1-for-5 in the first half, but turned it on in the second to finish with 11. His left-handed dunk over a Wildcat defender put the Buckeye crowd at a fever pitch, and an assist to Young a couple plays later gave Ohio State a game-high 30-point lead.
“I feel like we found out that we’re very hungry,” Carton said. “We’ve been very hungry all season long and I think we have things to prove.”
Ohio State sophomore guard Luther Muhammad knocked down more than one 3 in just one of the Buckeyes’ final 12 games a season ago, but he hit two in the first half Wednesday, extending a hot streak to start the season that’s seen him shoot 63 percent through three games.
Back-to-back Walker alley-oops to freshman forward Alonzo Gaffney in the final 1:30 of the game put the cherry on the top for the Buckeyes, as the home crowd stood in applause.
Holtmann said the win was one of a few games in his career as a head coach where everything went right for his team, and he knows how rare that is.
“For us, how do we continue to grow is my biggest challenge for us moving forward, and then how do we respond when things don’t always go our way? That’ll be the question for us,” Holtmann said.
Ohio State continues its seven-game season-opening home-swing against Stetson at 8:30 p.m.