Kyle Young had 14 points combined in the final five games of this past season.
The Buckeyes needed all of Young’s career-high, team-leading 14 against Cincinnati in Wednesday’s season-opener, as the junior forward’s star turn bailed Ohio State out of an otherwise catastrophic first half.
“Kyle’s got one thing on his mind when he plays. And that is Ohio State winning,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “That is the only thing that matters to him.”
Adding a career and team-high 13 rebounds on the night to gather his first double-double, there wasn’t much Young did Wednesday that didn’t contribute to that goal.
There was no mistaking that it was each team’s first game of the season, in what Holtmann called a “rock fight” that saw Ohio State and Cincinnati combine to shoot 30 percent in the opening period.
The Buckeyes were held scoreless for nearly the first eight minutes of the game, starting out 0-for-7 from the field.
It wasn’t junior forward Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State’s returning points leader, who turned it around for the Buckeyes, nor freshman guard and sixth man sparkplug DJ Carton. Instead, it took a transition dunk from Young on a fast break to ignite a previously dormant home crowd and finally get the Buckeyes on the board after a 6-0 Bearcat run.
Young doubled down the very next possession with a layup off an offensive board, and another bucket two minutes later would tally all six of Ohio State’s opening points in his column.
The 6-foot-8 big man corralled six of his eight first-half rebounds on offense, keeping the ball alive for the Buckeyes and notching in second-chance points of his own, but Young didn’t let up on the other end either.
Midway through the first half, guarding the ball out to the 3-point line, Young hounded his man on a drive to the basket before stuffing a shot attempt out of bounds with his left hand, which drew a chest bump from Wesson, along with words of encouragement.
Wesson liked the play of his frontcourt partner so much that he rewarded him with a dish down low toward the end of the half, and Young finished the opening 20 minutes 5-for-6 from the field. Excluding him, the Buckeyes scored nine points and shot 17 percent in the period.
“Effort is a big thing. Coach tries to preach, ‘Keep high energy.’ I gotta be a guy in there that’s doing those types of things, getting extra rebounds, stuff like that,” Young said.
Holtmann said the Buckeyes scrapped their offensive gameplan following the dismal half. One thing that did not change, though, was Young’s effort.
After the Buckeyes shot 0-for-5 from the foul stripe in the first half, Young went straight to the hoop on a post up look to start the second, drawing contact to knock down the first two Ohio State free throws of the game. The Buckeyes would go on to hit 17 more the rest of the way.
Young didn’t need to provide much more scoring the rest of the way, as his production held the Buckeyes over until the rest of the offense came alive. Ohio State’s 55 percent second-half shooting, including 57 percent from 3-point range, boosted it to a 45-point period.
However, with Ohio State up just six with 1:30 remaining, Cincinnati’s honorable mention All-America senior guard and leading scorer Jarron Cumberland barrelled down the lane looking for a bucket. Instead, he’d find Young, who was there to take a charge that proved crucial for the Buckeye victory.
Few times, if any, has Young led the Buckeyes in several statistical categories, but Wesson didn’t find the performance surprising.
“I was seeing Kyle. The same Kyle we’ve seen all summer leading up to this game,” Wesson said. “High energy guy that’s going to do the dirty work for you. That’s what we expect out of K.Y. and that’s what he gives us.”
So often in Young’s Ohio State tenure he’s played an unsung role. But on a night of firsts for himself and the Buckeyes, there was no qualifier needed –– he was simply the hero.