Mark Turgeon wouldn’t let it go, so Chris Holtmann decided he had to publicly defend his big man.
Immediately following Ohio State’s 79-72 home win against Maryland on Sunday, Turgeon took issue with Kaleb Wesson’s physicality in his matchup with fellow big man Jalen “Stix” Smith. Wesson had 15 points (5-for-10) and nine rebounds, and Smith was held without double-digit points or rebounds for the first time since Dec. 1, recording eight points (3-for-8) and seven rebounds.
“He was allowed to be the bully offensively today,” Turgeon said of Wesson after the game. “I mean, he stuck a forearm right in Stix's chest twice. I guess you're allowed to do that here in this building.”
Turgeon then followed up on his initial comments on Tuesday. In reference to the Wesson-Smith battle, he told local reporters that “it was really like the big brother picking on the little brother, and the parents were just letting him do it.” He again called Wesson a “bully” on the Courtside podcast, per the Columbus Dispatch’s Adam Jardy.
Unprompted, Holtmann brought up Turgeon’s comments to end his press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
“I have a ton of respect for Mark and the Maryland team and the Maryland program, but I just continue to take issue with the way he characterized Kaleb's play,” Holtmann said. “I think it's inappropriate. I've never seen this much conversation after a loss. And I understand there's probably some maneuvering in terms of the next game that they play, but no one is scrutinized in terms of officiating more than Kaleb Wesson, and he's had to adjust.”
To Holtmann, Sunday’s game versus the Terrapins was “certainly not the most physical game” that the Buckeyes have played in this season. He also said the referees never raised any concerns about Wesson’s physical play with him during the game.
“I thought that those comments afterwards were, quite honestly, a little bit out of place,” Holtmann said.
The reason Holtmann says he broached the topic on Wednesday was the “continued dialogue” from Turgeon, who commented on Wesson’s play immediately after Sunday’s game then again both at a press conference on Tuesday and on a podcast early this week.
Holtmann said that his general point is that though Wesson can be a difficult player to officiate, he has put in “hours of film” to adjust his game. He said "the kid deserves some credit" for a diminished foul rate.
Wesson plays a career-best 9.6 minutes per foul this season. As a sophomore, he was on the floor for 8.0 minutes per foul, and as a freshman he managed 7.3 minutes per foul.
“He has got his fair share of calls against him,” Holtmann said. “He's adjusted. He's scrutinized as much as anyone in this league, in terms of officiating.”
He won’t have to think about facing off with the Terrapins again in the regular season. They split the series, each picking up a win. However, there remains a chance that the Buckeyes and Terrapins meet again in the Big Ten tournament, which tips off in two weeks.
“We're certainly moving on, but it was hard to let that one rest,” Holtmann said.