The Ohio State basketball team did more than just play basketball at Value City Arena on Saturday.
Playing in front of a sold-out crowd for the first time since 2014, Ohio State took care of its business on the court – defeating Iowa, 82-64 – but sent a more powerful message, in more ways than one, before and after the game.
Ohio State took the court before Saturday's game wearing black shirts that simply read "EQUALITY.", which Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann and his players said after the game was something they collectively decided to do in recognition of Black History Month.
"Coach Holtmann was talking before the game how the game of basketball gives you one of the greatest opportunities to develop deep friendships with people of all races," said Ohio State center Micah Potter. "And in this country, everyone’s equal, no matter what race, what the color of your skin is or anything. So it’s just a great way to represent what this country represents, and how we feel about stuff."
Holtmann said the idea to wear the shirts was something he discussed with Scoonie Penn, Ohio State's director of player development, and felt it was important for the Buckeyes to find a way to acknowledge Black History Month.
"One of the things we talked about as a team here is it’s one of the really, really powerful things with team sports, is that you have a chance to have lifelong friendships with people from all different backgrounds, all different races," Holtmann said. "Some of my closest friends in coaching are guys that I went to battle with from all different backgrounds and all different races, and they’ll have that for the rest of their life. And team sports allows that to happen."
In addition to sending a message of equality on Saturday, Ohio State also remembered the lives of fallen Westerville Police officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli, who were killed in the line of duty on Saturday while responding to a 911 call, by holding a moment of silence at Value City Arena before the game.
After the game, Holtmann opened his press conference by making a statement about the tragedy.
"I think all of us that were here and live in this state and work in this state, I think all of us were probably impacted the same way," Holtmann said. "That is such a difficult thing, and I hope that community has time to heal, those families have time to heal. And I hope they know our thoughts and prayers are with them. A lot more important things than a game here tonight. So that one certainly close to home for all of us, particularly because of where we’re located and we have a couple young men from that area. So I just want everybody to know, want them to know, that community to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them tonight, with Anthony and Eric’s family."
That news hit particularly close to home for Kaleb Wesson and his brother, Andre, who grew up in Westerville, and graduated from Westerville South High School
"I heard about it when we were eating, and I just prayed on it," Kaleb Wesson said. "We prayed before the game, and I just prayed on it."