Wednesday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes welcomed Division II Cedarville University to the Schottenstein Center for an exhibition game to get both teams warmed up for their respective regular seasons, and the Buckeyes did not disappoint.
Behind a team-high 23 points from Kaleb Wesson and 15 from freshman guard D.J. Carton, the Buckeyes rolled to a 95-52 win over the visiting Yellow Jackets. Quinton Green led Cedarville in scoring with 16 on 5-8 shooting.
Cedarville didn’t roll over in the first half, however. With 8:24 left in the first half, an Isaiah Speelman three gave the Yellow Jackets a 23-22 lead, and the Cedarville faithful in attendance absolutely erupted inside Value City Arena. The Buckeyes would then close the half on a 19-4 run, including eight from Kaleb Wesson.
The second half was all Ohio State, as they outscored Cedarville 54-25 after the break. The Buckeyes were able to impose their will on a much smaller Yellow Jacket squad, draw double teams in the post, and kick the ball out to the perimeter for open looks.
The second half also offered Ohio State fans their first chance to see the four highly touted freshmen from the Big Ten’s No. 1 incoming class; Carton, E.J. Liddell, Alonzo Gaffney, and Ibrahima Diallo; all playing significant minutes for Ohio State.
Of the four, Carton stood out the most, dropping 15 points on 7-10 shooting. Even the two walk-on players, Danny Hummer and Harrison Hookfin, got some playing time towards the end. Overall it was a very impressive showing for the Buckeyes, who take on Cincinnati at home in one week. As a quick summary, here are the five most important observations I drew from this exhibition game:
Kaleb Wesson has reached his final form
Yes, it looks like the Kaleb Wesson that we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. Slimmed down by over 30 pounds, he was the same force in the post that we’ve become accustomed to seeing in the past two years, although he has improved in other areas that desperately needed improvement.
Being stuck on the bench — or being forced to play uber-conservative defense due to foul trouble — was an issue for the younger Wesson last year. But, in 23 minutes of play against Cedarville, he was only whistled for one foul. At times last year, Wesson would fall behind in transition defense when another team would force a quicker tempo. In this game there was not one instance where I caught him trailing the play on defense.
He also shot 3-for-4 from three-point range, an area where he was acceptable (34%), but not spectacular, last year. Stretching Kaleb Wesson out to the perimeter as a legitimate threat will give opponents headaches all season long. Wesson also chipped in with two assists and two blocks as part of his impressive final line.
Chris Holtmann has a point guard decision on his hands
By this time next week, Chris Holtmann will have to decide if he’s going to start redshirt junior CJ Walker or the freshman Carton at point guard in the opener against Cincinnati. Tonight he went with Walker, but Carton had a great first game as a Buckeye. While Walker scored 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, Carton dropped 15 on 7-of-10, including hitting his only three-pointer and throwing down four highlight-reel dunks. He also dished out five assists as opposed to one turnover.
Walker had no assists, but did turn the ball over twice. It seems that Holtmann was leaning towards Walker as the starter (he started him over Carton in the only exhibition after all), but after Carton’s performance, it really is anybody’s guess who will start next week against the Bearcats.
Kyle Young looked like a man among boys
He also looked like a Division I player among Division II players, I know. Young, who dealt with a stress fracture in his lower right leg for much of last season, appeared to play completely free and at full strength against Cedarville.
While many assumed freshman Liddell would draw the start, it was actually Young who Holtmann plugged into the starting lineup for the exhibition. A natural forward who can also slide over and play the traditional center position if needed, Young is an extremely dependable scorer in the paint, however, he is very limited outside of that area.
Last season, he shot 67.2 percent from the field, which would have led the Big Ten by over 5 percent if he’d qualified for the lead (to lead the league in any statistic, you must start at least 75 percent of your team’s games or attempt an average of five shots per game).
Young had 10 points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes against Cedarville, including two dunks. One of those dunks came on a pass from Kaleb Wesson, who was double teamed near the left elbow. This exact play might be why Holtmann is inclined to start both Wesson and Young, as Wesson can draw multiple defenders away from the paint which will free Young for easy looks. If Young plays anything approaching this level all season, we may need to readjust our original expectations for the big man from Canton.
Are the Buckeyes going to play faster this year?
Chris Holtmann has begun to develop a brand at Ohio State in his first two seasons. Tough, gritty defense and efficient offense. Make the smart play, not the flashy play. The personnel on his first two teams fit this mold, but they also hindered Ohio State’s ability to really speed up the pace and push the ball down the floor at a tempo which makes the opponent uncomfortable. Illinois and West Virginia are two teams that use this strategy that Ohio State will face this season.
The Buckeyes are not the slowest team in the country, as they ranked 274th in the country last year in adjusted tempo according to KenPom, (Virginia was last in this statistic at 353rd, and it seemed to work for them), but they typically move the offense at a slow and steady pace.
Against Cedarville, however, the Buckeyes really pushed the tempo, especially when the ball was in Walker’s hands. It was apparent that the redshirt, transfer junior guard wants to get the ball and push the pace immediately. With a slimmed down Kaleb Wesson and a plethora of athletic guards and wings, will we see Ohio State speed up their pace of play this season? If this game was any indication, the answer could be yes.
Justin Ahrens and D.J. Carton are both healthy (enough)
Justin Ahrens, Carton, and Musa Jallow are the three Buckeyes who have been nursing injuries in preseason practice. Jallow recently underwent ankle surgery, and he is out indefinitely.
Ahrens was dealing with a back injury suffered in the weight room, but he came off of the bench Wednesday night against Cedarville. Carton was dealing with an ankle injury, and he too came off the bench. While neither Ahrens nor Carton are confirmed to be “100 percent healthy,” they both were good enough to go in the exhibition, and barring any setbacks should be set to play next week in the opener against Cincinnati. This means that Ohio State will be at nearly full strength as they open up an absolute gauntlet of a non-conference schedule next week.