Kaleb Wesson totaled 17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots and two steals…and was welcomed back in OSU’s quarterfinal win over Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament.
Columbus – No one on the NCAA Tournament selection committee would dare say it out loud for public consumption, but basketball teams such as Ohio State create headaches that start at the temples and speed throughout the brain like a wave.
How could anyone on the committee put a grade on these Buckeyes even after 32 games?
They started out the season 12-1, but did a pratfall by going 1-6 in January. They were a respectable 5-3 in February, but looked like Penn State and Illinois when center Kaleb Wesson was suspended the final three games of the regular season.
The tournament committee had to be seeing a team that had four fouls and was dangerously close to getting a fifth.
But the Buckeyes lived to play another day and just might have put some distance between themselves and the dreaded bubble for at least 24 hours with a 79-75 victory over Indiana on Thursday in the United Center in Chicago.
Wesson totaled 17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots and two steals and guard Keyshawn Woods was just as sweet with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
It took one clutch play after another down the stretch to win it after the Hoosiers sliced a 20-point deficit to three.
“I didn’t feel comfortable until the buzzer rang,’’ junior swingman Andre Wesson said.
Second-year coach Chris Holtmann said, “Our guys weathered the storm.’’
The outcome all but eliminated Indiana (17-15) from consideration for the NCAA Tournament because many viewed this as a play-in game.
The only guarantee for Ohio State (19-13), though, is a semifinal against regular-season champion Michigan State (25-6) at 12:30 p.m. Friday. It beat the Buckeyes 86-77 on January 5 in Columbus and 62-44 on February 17 in East Lansing.
Holtmann has grown weary of bubble talk, saying there was rampant speculation about which teams stood where as early as November.
“I think it requires some discipline, and I’m not sure that we’ve always been great at it,’’ he said. “So is it hard? Sure. I mean, it’s everywhere at this time of year, right?’’
With Wesson plopping his 270 pounds underneath the basket, it was obvious the Buckeyes wouldn’t be the scoring challenged group they were against Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
He wasn’t bashful in taking and missing a three-pointer 59 seconds in. A little more than six minutes in, he had five points and three rebounds and clearly was the best player on the court.
“Yeah, this was great to get a win like this out there with my guys again,’’ Wesson said. “I felt really, really confident. My teammates were making a big deal at the beginning of the game like, ‘Yeah, we’re happy to have you back! We’re going to get you back in rhythm.’’’
Brother Andre Wesson said Kaleb was down on himself when he was sitting out.
“It was big for us (getting him back),’’ Andre Wesson said.
Holtmann said, “I’ll tell you, it has been a tough stretch – a tough stretch – and we were glad to get Kaleb back.’’
A blowout looked to be in the offing when Ohio State took a 63-43 lead with 7 ½ minutes left on a three-pointer by Luther Muhammad.
But the Hoosiers ran 13 straight points to get within 63-56 on a lay-up by De’Ron Davis with 4:20 left.
And it got even closer.
“We knew they were going to come back,’’ senior guard C.J. Jackson said.
That’s when the Buckeyes righted themselves by making one important play after another.
Video replay kept the ball in Ohio State’s hands after official Bo Boroski ruled the ball deflected out of bounds off Kaleb Wesson with two minutes remaining.
There would not have been a replay had the clocked stopped at 2 minutes, 1 second.
Woods took advantage of that second chance by making a short jumper from the baseline for a 70-62 lead.
When Indiana cut the lead to three points with 55.9 seconds left after two drives by Langford, the Buckeyes responded with three huge plays to win it.
Woods hit a jumper in the lane with 34.7 seconds left and Wesson drew a charging foul on Evan Fitzer with 18.9 seconds left.
Then freshman Duane Washington soared in coming down with a long inbound pass from Andre Wesson near mid-court in what amounted to a jump ball with Aljami Durham. He then dribbled approximately 40 feet to finish with a dunk to make it 76-69 with 16.1 seconds left.
Nothing was decided until Jackson made two free throws with 3.3 seconds left.
Kaleb Wesson’s return was big for the Buckeyes, but they might not have won without Woods. He has raised his game, Holtmann said, since the final 10 minutes of a loss to Wisconsin on Sunday.
“Tremendous,’’ Holtmann said. “He was tremendous. I thought he was tremendous in every way. He’s doing what seniors do.’’
Woods bore no resemblance to the uncertain man who too often deferred to teammates at put up or shut up time.
Yesterday, he wanted the ball.
“We knew how important this first game was for us, and we came out and showed it,’’ he said. “The one goal from transferring from Wake Forest was getting back to the tournament. Wherever I went, I wanted to play for a team that wanted the same thing. That’s what I’ve got with these guys.’’