They just can’t seem to get healthy! Seven players in rotation for the Buckeyes have sat out for stretches going into Saturday’s game against Purdue.
Columbus – The fitting portrait for Ohio State’s basketball season could have been snapped by photographers when Musa Jallow and Justice Sueing stood side by side during warm-ups before a game against Indiana two weeks ago.
The players wheeled themselves on to the court on scooters specifically designed for those unable to put weight on one leg, and made darned sure they were a safe distance from the action.
Jallow, a sophomore forward, didn’t play a single minute before deciding to have season-ending surgery to reconstruct his right ankle.
Sueing hasn’t played at all by NCAA mandate because he transferred from California, but his season as a practice player came to a halt when he had surgery on the left ankle.
A lot has been made about the Buckeyes maddening inconsistency, and rightly so, going into a game against Purdue at noon Saturday at The Schott.
Ohio State (16-8 6-7) can rain three-pointers on opponents. It is ranked third in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency. On the flip side, the team ranks 10th in the conference in defensive efficiency.
The inconsistency only begins with those two statistics.
Yet injuries have been just as damaging as no fewer than seven players in the rotation have been affected by bumps, bruises, fractures, separations and even appendicitis.
“It’s unlike any year I’ve ever experienced when it comes to that,’’ coach Chris Holtmann said. “I’ve had years where I’ve had injuries or whatever the case, but not almost from the get-go.’’
Sophomore guard Duane Washington missed two games with a rib injury and was moved to the point when freshman DJ Carton took an indefinite leave of absence to attend to mental health issues.
The next man up mentality, he said, rules in the locker room.
“We always want to be on the court,’’ Washington said. “The guys who aren’t, we’re playing for them.’’
Here’s the M*A*S*H rundown after Jallow and Sueing:
1. Captain and senior forward Andre Wesson missed games against Massachusetts-Lowell and Villanova because of a fractured orbital bone in one eye.
2. Junior forward Kyle Young missed games against Wisconsin and Maryland after having an appendectomy. He is just now getting back to speed.
3. Sophomore wing Justin Ahrens of Versailles was limited through December after suffering herniated discs in his lower back from weight lifting in June.
4. Sophomore guard Luther Muhammad has been playing through a left shoulder injury that pops in and out of place. He left games against Penn State and Northwestern.
5. Washington missed games against Minnesota and Southeast Missouri State with banged up ribs.
6. Carton is expected to miss his fifth straight game because of mental health issues going back to his senior season at Bettendorf High School in Iowa.
There had to be gasps on the bench when Young fell awkwardly in the second half of a victory over Rutgers on Wednesday.
Young is being monitored for the same leg stress fracture injury that forced him to miss four games last season. When he is on the floor today, notice the kinesiology tape on both legs from the knee down.
Washington said it takes a lot for a player to sit out practice.
“For me and a lot of guys on the team, if you can’t participate at all you should sit out and get your rest,’’ he said. “But if it’s a rolled ankle, you are going to practice. Coach is big on being an every day guy. Guys want to show that to each other and the staff so we trust each other even more. Practices are competitive.’’
The players, Washington said, always are thinking about body maintenance.
“We try our hardest to stay healthy,’’ he said. “We get into the weight room, we stretch and we see our trainers in the training room. We know we’re doing the best that we can. We always want to be on the court.’’
Ohio State isn’t alone when it comes to injuries. Iowa lost point guard Jordan Bohannon to hip surgery before the New Year, Michigan forward Isaiah Livers has been in and out of the lineup with a groin injury, Michigan State wing Kyle Ahrens has missed four games and Purdue center Matt Haarms has sat for being in concussion protocol.
But it would be difficult to find a major college team that has gone through more hurts than the Buckeyes.
“We’re kind of in a survival mode right now in a lot of ways,’’ Holtmann said. “Our guys are in a pretty good place. We are more conscious as a staff right now than we have ever been as to the wear and tear on our guys’ bodies because of the concerns about depth.’’
Washington knows the score in the backcourt without Carton.
“We’re down to three (scholarship players) and Danny (Hummer, a walk-on),’’ he said.
Asked by a reporter to sum up the season in one word, Washington surprisingly – amazingly – said “fun.’’
The next-man-up mentality definitely has helped get the players through the turmoil.
Holtmann said there has never been any oh-woe-are-we-talk.
“People all over the country have injuries, and at the end of the day what people are going to look at with us (asking) did you win or did you lose?’’ he said. “Did you perform or not? Did you make the NCAA tournament or not? That will be the postscript. We have not really talked about those things as a group about the string of injuries, the run of injuries.’’
Holtmann couldn’t sum up the season in one word and chose two.
“I would say two words, in process,’’ he said. “(It’s) what we’re going to look like and what’s to be determined here. I try not to reflect on the season until the story is finally written and stay in the moment as much as possible because it can be overwhelming if you don’t.’’
With so many injuries, sophomore walk-on Harrison Hookfin of Lebanon, Ohio, has never been more important.
His college basketball story began last season at the midway point. He was a regular student majoring in biology when assistant Kyle Davis called.
Young had gone down with the stress fracture and the Buckeyes desperately needed a practice player.
“Coach said, ‘Can you come in and get a physical?’’’ Hookfin said. “I took the physical and he said, ‘You have practice in 15 minutes.’ Three days went by and (Holtmann) said I was going to be on the team.’’
Hookfin, a forward, has played a total of 21 minutes in six games. His value comes during practice.
“When guys are out, it’s whatever the coaches want me to do,’’ he said. “I try to match the energy (of players who are out). I just try to compete. I simulate the other team. I try to make guys better.’’
Washington was taken aback when Hoofkin showed up for his first practice. At the time, he was a spindly 6 feet 5 with no weight room experience.
“This dude just walked down the ramp and I saw No. 45 or 42 or something,’’ he said. “I had never seen that number.’’
Teammates call Hookfin “Harry’’ and have treated him as if he were on scholarship.