Youngstown State wasn’t supposed to hang with Ohio State. The Penguins are ranked 321st in the KenPom ratings, making them the Buckeyes' second-worst opponent of the season.
But the Buckeyes didn’t score their first point until nearly five minutes had passed. Seven minutes into the game, Youngstown State held a 14-2 lead. Ohio State managed to get the game somewhat under control, but still trailed the Penguins, 25-22, at halftime. In the first 20 minutes, the Buckeyes made five layups or dunks and just two shots from elsewhere on the court, hitting 24.1 percent of their shots and 1-of-11 3-pointers.
Kaleb Wesson managed just five points in the first half, making 2-of-6 shots. Ohio State, which had a size advantage inside, needed him. So, at halftime, he got “chewed out” by everybody. Literally, everybody.
“Everybody,” Wesson said. “One through 12 and the coaches.”
Whatever they said clearly worked.
"But sometimes you get chewed out, it lights something in you. I feel like once that happened in me, I feel like I just had to step up.”– Kaleb Wesson
After setting a career-high of 22 points in Saturday’s win against Bucknell, Wesson would have re-upped the mark had he not even played in the first half of Tuesday's 75-56 win against Youngstown State.
Wesson made all eight of his field goal attempts and 10-of-11 free throws in the second half to finish with a new career-high of 31 points, including 26 second-half points. He was the first player on the team this season to cross the 30-point threshold.
“I had to regain my focus,” Wesson said. “I had to get chewed out a couple times. It's not something I like (or) I expect to happen. But sometimes you get chewed out, it lights something in you. I feel like once that happened in me, I feel like I just had to step up.”
Wesson has begun to string together some of the better performances of not just his season, but of his career. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season on Saturday, then added seven rebounds to his 31 points on Tuesday.
Wesson single-handedly scored more points in the second half than his team scored in the opening 20 minutes. Ten of his 13 fouls draw came in the closing 20 minutes.
Both he and Holtmann still see room to grow, though.
Wesson called his progression “baby steps,” and noted that he has become a better finisher around the rim but said he’s “not rebounding at a high level” that he would like to be at. Holtmann challenged him to become an even better finisher near the basket.
“He still has to meet balls and play through contact a little bit better,” Holtmann said. “I've got high expectations for him. I want him to finish everyone and get an and-one. He can still be better in some of those areas, and his defense can still be better. But I'm really proud of him.”
Holtmann was also pleased with how his team responded to the slow-paced offense and sagging defense played by the Penguins. The team planned to pound the ball inside to Wesson and executed with precision.
“I'm also – and I want to make sure that I say this – because I'm really proud of our group in the second half, because they were fully committed to playing through him," Holtmann said. "Not everybody we play plays like that where it's single coverage and they're playing behind. But our team was really committed to finding him in the second half, and everybody that played deserves credit for that.”
Youngstown State head coach Jerrod Calhoun complimented Wesson’s ability to play to his strengths, saying he “does what he's good at.”
“He's a load,” Calhoun said. “I think he makes the game easier for coach Holtmann and those other four players that are out there playing with him. He's a monster. He's really, really good. I've seen a lot of games throughout the years in the Big East when I was at West Virginia. That was as good a half and as efficient of a half as I've seen. We just had no answer.”
For a while, it seemed like Ohio State was the team without any answers. Whatever Youngstown State threw at the Buckeyes worked early in the first half, which led to Holtmann saying his team has “a really long way to go.”
Holtmann has ample concerns moving forward. But Ohio State found what it needed – Wesson in the post – on Tuesday in order to improve to 10-1.