Basketball Preview: Ohio State To Face UMass Lowell Without Starter Andre Wesson

By Colin Hass-Hill on November 10, 2019 at 12:32 pm
Kaleb Wesson

Ohio State won’t have one of its starters for the second game of the season and possibly beyond.

Andre Wesson, the team’s only senior, will miss the Buckeyes’ matchup with UMass Lowell on Sunday due to an eye injury suffered in the season-opening win versus Cincinnati on Wednesday, Chris Holtmann said. Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch reported that Wesson has a fractured eye socket that will hold him out for two weeks. Holtmann declined to offer a diagnosis or timetable for his return on Friday, saying Wesson “continues to be evaluated by our medical staff.”

Who Where When TV
UMass Lowell Schottenstein Center 4 p.m. ESPNU

“I think the disappointing thing is you hate to see a senior, especially one that has meant so much to our program like Andre, miss any time,” Holtmann said. “You hate to see a guy that has really given a lot to this program miss a game, miss anything because of injury. But he'll respond. So I feel bad for him.”

Without Wesson for Sunday’s game that will tip off at 4 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center and be shown on ESPNU, the Buckeyes suddenly find themselves bereft of depth on the wing. Musa Jallow remains out after having ankle surgery, and Justice Sueing isn’t eligible to play this season after transferring from California.

Wesson's injury creates a possible issue since Ohio State now will play both without its only senior and arguably its most consistent defender.

“We don't have another guy in our program that's like Andre, with his experience and his defensive versatility,” Holtmann said. “Andre connects our defense as well as anybody I've coached. I think that value sometimes gets lost to someone just casually watching a game. He connects our defense as well as anyone, and he competes on that end, and we all know how tough he is.”

The loss of Wesson leaves Justin Ahrens as the only obvious replacement at small forward, though it won’t be as simple as plopping him into Wesson’s role. They’re completely different players, with Ahrens being a better shooter but having defense as his main weakness. Ahrens also is still not completely healthy due to an offseason back injury that lingers.

No Wesson and no Jallow means Holtmann and his coaching staff will have to get creative.

There could be an increase in three-guard lineups, making a pairing of DJ Carton and CJ Walker more common. In those scenarios, Luther Muhammad or Duane Washington Jr. would effectively play small forward. E.J. Liddell could play more, but Holtmann hinted that he might not change the inside-outside role he played in the opener. The head coach mentioned freshman Alonzo Gaffney as somebody who might have an increase in opportunity. He did not play in the opener against the Bearcats. 

“We're not the deepest team there with now both of our guys that presumably would've logged a significant amount of minutes at the three being on the sidelines,” Holtmann said. “I think that we'll need to be better in other areas and be better quickly, and it'll give other guys an opportunity. And we'll have to play through some mistakes that are inevitably going to happen.”

Opponent Preview

With a 1-1 record, including a 79-64 loss to Massachusetts in the season opener, UMass Lowell doesn’t enter Sunday with a resume that’ll invoke fear in the Buckeyes.

The River Hawks, though, won their second game of the year on Friday, beating Long Island University, 87-74, behind a remarkable 51-point performance from Christian Lutete. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound redshirt senior guard hit 16-of-25 shots, made 7-of-12 3-pointers and went 12-for-13 from the free-throw line. He’s one of the three top scorers who return from last year’s UMass Lowell team that went 15-17. Lutete led his team with 18.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game a year ago.

“They return a lot of guys from last year's team, and a really explosive offensive team,” Holtmann said. “I'm excited about getting back out there with our guys and competing and getting back out there pretty quickly here.”

UMass Lowell was picked to finish fifth out of nine teams in the America East Conference preseason poll. It’s ranked No. 241 in the country, per KenPom.

With only one player on the team taller than 6-foot-7 – a 6-foot-9 sophomore named Darius Henderson who plays sparingly – the River Hawks will be at a major size disadvantage, which will be an issue against Kaleb Wesson. Therefore, it’ll be incumbent for UMass Lowell to push the ball at every opportunity.

“I will say their ability to score in bunches, their tempo's been top 50 last year, their offensive numbers are really good,” Holtmann said. “They have a lot of guys returning from a 15- or 16-win team. I think they do a really good job putting pressure on you. Their staff, their coaching staff, do a really good job putting pressure on you in a lot of ways.”

Ohio State Preview

In his 32 games last season, Kaleb Wesson scored eight or fewer points just seven times. 

On Wednesday, Wesson opened up his junior season by scoring eight points. But take a look at the rest of his stat line – 2-for-3 from 3-point range, 11 rebounds, a block – and you’ll realize why his head coach was so effusive with praise on Friday when recalling the performance.

“It was one of the best overall games I've seen Kaleb play,” Holtmann said. “I just thought he was really impactful on both ends, tried to take three charges, took two, blocked a couple shots, 12 rebounds. When they were throwing the house at him in the first half in the post, I think he got six fouls called on the other team because of post-ups, made the right pass on a lot of occasions, opened up our offense.”

With UMass Lowell lacking big bodies in its frontcourt, Wesson might make up for his lack of points with a strong second game in the scoring column on the stat sheet.

The matchup with the River Hawks also offers Ohio State’s point guards – Walker and Carton – a chance to feel more comfortable running the offense. They both had four turnovers and two assists apiece against Cincinnati.

Walker, though, said he felt better about his play after settling down in the second half. Carton flashed in the latter 20 minutes when he hit a 3-pointer and scored a reverse layup in succession.

“One thing I learned when I got here is you can't play like that all the time at this level,” Carton said on Friday. “You're going to have turnovers and stuff like that. I've been working really hard on playing with more poise. With the experience I've had, it's helped me a lot. I've just been working on my game like that a lot, and I think as the game goes on, I'll start to produce more plays like that.”

Other Notes

  • Ohio State’s out-of-conference schedule features five marquee games, and six against completely overmatched teams rated poorly by KenPom. This game is the first of six against lowly regarded non-conference opponents. 
  • There’s often a singular reason why Ohio State schedules a certain non-conference opponent, but Holtmann said “there wasn't one specific reason why we scheduled them.”

How it plays out

Ohio State took nearly eight minutes to score its first points of the season against Cincinnati. Given that UMass Lowell is more known for its offense than defense, it’s unlikely that happens again. 

“I anticipate it'll be a different game than the other night,” Holtmann said.

That translates to more points, possibly for both teams. Given the difference in talent between these teams, it’s hard to imagine this game being competitive in the second half. The River Hawks are 22.5-point underdogs for a reason.

Prediction: Ohio State 88, UMass Lowell 66

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