Of all the question marks for Ohio State during its month-long slide, Kaleb Wesson’s consistency hasn’t been one of them.
Rather, it’s been his supporting cast and the unreliable offensive play of the Buckeye guards that have largely tanked Ohio State, but that wasn’t the case in its loss to Minnesota Thursday.
The junior forward scored just two points on 1-of-10 shooting, his worst scoring performance of the season, but the rest of the team was able to pick up his slack –– for the most part –– in a game that came down to the final seconds.
“In some ways, we took a step forward in some areas,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “Right now, we’re just not good enough in enough areas to win in this league. We’re just not.”
Winning in the Big Ten is something the Buckeyes have now only done less than Northwestern.
Other than the 6-foot-9 big man, Ohio State shot 20-for-39, with no player save sophomore guard Luther Muhammad looking particualry out of rhythm on offense.
Sophomore guard Duane Washington, junior forward Kyle Young and redshirt junior guard CJ Walker all outperformed their season scoring averages, and eight Buckeyes put points on the board in the contest.
Kaleb Wesson resorted to his passing skills as the game wound down, finding Young on back-to-back assists to put the Buckeyes up four with a minute to play.
The second of the two was an over-the-shoulder lob from the top of the key to the front of the rim, and the Buckeye home crowd roared after Young’s team-leading 13th and 14th point of the night on a second straight finish.
Yet Kaleb Wesson still found the ball in his hands with the game on the line with 16 seconds on the clock. If the preceding events of the night were any indication, Wesson was off, as his 3-point attempt from the rim hit all iron.
He’d have to watch as redshirt sophomore guard Marcus Carr, who put up 35 in the Buckeyes’ first loss to Minnesota in December, put the dagger in Ohio State’s heart yet again with a 3-point make in the final three seconds.
“It hurts. It hurts a lot,” Walker said. “Especially when you’re in a game like that. Made the right plays the whole game and that happens. Just trying to get on a roll, get back in the win column and then that happens, so it just hurts.”
Kaleb Wesson missed all three of his 3-point attempts on the night, and didn’t get to the free throw line once.
His lack of trips to the charity stripe weren’t for a lack of banging down low, though.
Hounded by a slew of Minnesota big men all night, Kaleb Wesson appeared determined to get a high-percentage shot off in the low post on an iso look five minutes into the second half.
After picking up his dribble, Wesson pivoted into Minnesota sophomore center Daniel Oturu to try and draw contact. He succeeded, but the call went the other way, and the officials upgraded it from a personal foul to flagrant after review.
“They said it was a non-basketball play where he put his head into the face of Oturu,” Holtmann said. “Which I did not agree with.”
Kaleb Wesson made plays in other ways Thursday, recording twice as many rebounds as any other player in the game. He blocked a Carr layup attempt out of bounds with less than a minute to go, but it was the last time he’d be denied, scoring the final five points to get the win for Minnesota.
It was the Buckeyes’ sixth loss in their past seven games, matching a January stretch from a season ago for Holtmann’s team. But when looking past the result, the third-year Buckeye head coach said Ohio State is making progress.
However, that hardly dulls the sting of defeat for the team.
“Our energy was better than its been. That’s why it’s disappointing,” Young said. “It’s a tough loss because we felt like we were in it –– we felt like we were gonna win that game.”