Andre Wesson says he feels “all right.” He says he’s “definitely” doing better than he was a week or two ago.
But observing his right eye, which remained bright red on Thursday, it’s no wonder that Chris Holtmann deemed him “easily” one of the five toughest players he has ever coached. The injury he suffered in the season-opening win against Cincinnati came when he took an inadvertent elbow from CJ Walker, leading his eye to redden in a way that looks like something causing a doctor to call off a UFC fight.
After missing games against UMass Lowell and Villanova, Wesson returned to action to play in the blowout of Stetson on Monday. He’ll play again – possibly as a starter – when Ohio State takes on Purdue Fort Wayne at the Schottenstein Center at 7 p.m. on Friday.
|Purdue Fort Wayne||Schottenstein Center||7 p.m.||BTN+|
“It's definitely been a little rough, but my guys been handling business, so that's the good thing,” Wesson said. “That's what I'm happy about. It's been rough just having to sit out just trying to get my vision back, recovering and stuff. Hopefully moving forward it will just continue to get better.”
Handing business would be an apt term for what has happened thus far.
After opening the season at No. 18 in the Associated Press top-25 poll, the Buckeyes have already risen to No. 10, doing so by beating Cincinnati, UMass Lowell, Villanova and Stetson at home by a combined 78 points. None of the victories have come by fewer than eight points.
With a win against Purdue Fort Wayne on Friday, they have a chance to open the season with a 5-0 record.
“I know our guys have a lot of respect for the team we're playing, and we need to play well tomorrow,” Holtmann said. “So that's our main focus, and obviously getting guys healthy.”
Holtmann’s team knows the Mastodons well. A year ago, the Buckeyes crushed them, 107-61, though the game was within seven points at halftime.
Purdue Fort Wayne no longer has John Konchar, a four-time first-team All-Summit League selection who signed a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies this summer. It also lost its second-leading scorer, Kason Harrell, to graduation and fourth-leading scorer, Matt Weir, to transfer. But especially due to the addition of Kansas State transfer Brian Patrick, Holtmann believes the Mastodons will still have a “very good season.”
“They have a really talented transfer from Kansas State,” Holtmann said. “Jon (Coffman) does a tremendous job putting those guys in really difficult positions to guard. He's a really good coach. It's going to be a challenge for us.”
They’ve opener the year with a 2-4 record, including wins against Manchester and Stetson. Three of their losses – to Kent State, Miami (Ohio) and Southeast Missouri State – have come by seven or fewer points, and their other loss came by 15 points to UNLV.
Patrick, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard averages 15.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and a team-high 4.3 assists per game.
“The addition of their 6-5 kid from Kansas State gives them an element of Konchar,” Holtmann said. “They've got really good size.
Jarred Godfrey, a fellow 6-foot-5 guard, is tied for the team lead with 15.5 points per game. Matt Holba, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward, has averaged 13.8 points and a team-high 5.3 rebounds per game.
As a team, Purdue Fort Wayne shoots 37.7 percent from 3-point range, hoisting 26.5 triples per game. Patrick, Godfrey and Holba each have made at least 39 percent of their 3-pointers this season.
“They have a five man that can make 3s. Their four can really make 3s,” Holtmann said. “Every year they're top-25 in country in 3-point attempts, 3-point makes, which always is a very dangerous team. They really spread you out. They get to the free-throw line. They start (players who stand) 6-5, 6-5, 6-5, 6-7, 6-11.”
Ohio State Preview
The Buckeyes have only played four games, but they’ve already been dealt with more injuries than they’d prefer. Musa Jallow remains out after ankle surgery, Wesson missed two games due to an eye injury, Justin Ahrens is still working his way back from an offseason back injury and E.J. Liddell spent three weeks in the preseason wearing a walking boot.
Including Wesson, Holtmann said Ohio State currently has three or four players who have been limited recently due to illnesses or getting banged up. He did not want to disclose the names of anyone else who has been restricted.
Kyle Young, who suffered a stress fracture in his leg during the Big Ten portion of last season, has been healthy thus far. And because of that, his game has taken a major step. He leads the Buckeyes with 11.8 points per game, also grabbing 8.5 rebounds per game.
“Guys want the ball, they need the ball and they want touches, and he doesn't need it to impact the game,” Holtmann said. “He can do it with his energy and playing off of other people. And I also think his teammates really appreciate how unselfish he is. I think you see that. He is a tremendous teammate.”
Against Purdue Fort Wayne, Young will have a shot to keep his hot start to the 2019-20 season rolling. The matchup could test his offensive game, too, since the Mastodons have ample size across their lineup.
- Wesson, with a smile, when asked about Walker being the one who accidentally elbowed his eye: “I mean, he was a little nervous to talk to me for a little bit there. But told him it's all right, happens. Moved on.”
- Holtmann said Wesson tried wearing goggles but didn’t like them, so he took them off during his second practice back from injury.
- Wesson thought about wearing a black mask, similar to the one Kyrie Irving had. Wesson: “It was going to be tough. They said I didn't have to wear anything. I just felt like vision-wise, may be cutting off my vision out my peripheral would definitely hurt. So I just decided not to have anything.”
- Ohio State continues its four-game stretch of playing teams ranked outside of the top 100 in KenPom. With a game against North Carolina just a couple weeks away, it would make sense for the coaching staff to keep an eye on what’s happening with the Tar Heels. However, that hasn’t happened, per Holtmann: “To be honest with you, we really don't. Our sole focus right now is on Purdue Fort Wayne, and then we'll have a quick turnaround to a really good Kent State team. So we have two really good teams that have been our focus right now.” He said the coaches begin preparation a bit earlier when facing a team with an uncommon style, such as West Virginia.
- Ahrens said his back injury stems from two herniated disks pushing into his nerve, which became aggravated while deadlifting early in the offseason. At this point, he says the only areas that are still affecting him are his lateral quickness and speed. Ahrens: “Hopefully I should be back into the swing of things by late December, early January, somewhere in there.”
How It Plays Out
Purdue Fort Wayne’s length and ability to chuck from beyond the 3-point arc could keep the game close for a bit. Eventually, though, it’s difficult to imagine the Buckeyes not pulling away. Per Bart Torvik, their win probability is 99 percent.
The Mastodons haven’t played a team quite as talented as Ohio State. So unless they can’t miss from deep, they likely won’t be able to hang.
Prediction: Ohio State 80, Purdue Fort Wayne 62