While the action on the floor wasn’t always pretty, the end result certainly was for Buckeye fans, as the No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes upset the No. 6 Iowa State Cyclones in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night, 62-59. Despite the crowd at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., being heavily one-sided in favor of the Big 12 Tournament champs, Chris Holtmann’s young, scrappy, and hungry squad pulled out one of the most thrilling victories of his short tenure at the helm of OSU’s program.
After nearly two full seasons waiting for Kaleb Wesson — Ohio State’s exceedingly talented big man — to assume the mantle as the unstoppable force that his size and skill seemed to always indicate that he would be. On the night, the sophomore amassed 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting and 12 rebounds, while only be whistled for three fouls (one after halftime).
However, he wasn’t the only Buckeye to put on a show against ISU. After spending nearly all of his sole season in the scarlet and gray trying to figure out how he fit with his new team, over the last few weeks, Wake Forest graduate-transfer Keyshawn Woods has been playing like a veteran who knows that his collegiate career is approaching its expiration date. And, instead of accepting his season as essentially lost, Woods has stepped and transformed into the player that Buckeye fans had hoped for before the season started, if not more.
Against Iowa State, the guard accounted for 19 points (7-for-16), and he was joined in double figures by sophomore forward Musa Jallow, who had 11. Despite the impressive performances by the two unusual contributors, it was not easy going for Holtmann’s squad on Friday night.
The game opened a bit sloppy for the Buckeyes, missing three bunnies on the opening possessions, and a pair of turnovers in the first two minutes. However, a switch was flipped, as OSU hit their next three in addition to a pair of free throws to take a 9-2 lead, forcing ISU coach Steve Prohm to take a timeout just 3:45 into the game.
In the early going, Kaleb Wesson exerted his physical advantage pulling in four boards in less than four minutes of play. Three of his teammates had their own, giving OSU a 7-1 early advantage on the boards.
That intensity on the glass for the Buckeyes extended to the outside of the arc as well, as Ohio State’s defenders were manning up tight on Iowa State’s guards, forcing them to settle for shots from distance, instead of allowing them to maneuver into the lane.
However, there is a reason that the Cyclones were the best offensive team in the Big 12, and they started to find some production as the Buckeyes routinely settled for three-point attempts, rather than working their offense.
Thanks to the swing in ISU’s behavior, they went on a 10-0 run until Keyshawn Woods hit a baseline floater as the shot clock ran down to put OSU back in front 13-12 with 12:20 remaining before halftime. A large portion of the Cyclones’ streak came with Kaleb Wesson on the bench for his first rest of the game, and the OSU guards deciding to throw the ball to Iowa State players instead of Ohio State players.
During ISU’s 15-2 run, it became painfully obvious that the Big 12 Tournament champs were much more athletic than the Buckeyes. So, after a timeout, Holtmann recalibrated the offense to run through OSU’s most obvious physical advantage, Kaleb Wesson.
The younger Wesson brother dominated inside, as Iowa State’s smaller forwards struggled to deal with with his size. However, with 6:31 to go in the first half, he picked up his second foul, and headed to the bench.
In his absence, OSU continued to out work the Cyclones. While ISU certainly had the athletic advantage, the Buckeyes were doing everything that they could to compensate with hustle. It also helped that Iowa State missed 11 consecutive field goals attempts before Marial Shayok hit a straight-away three.
The first half ended with the Buckeyes throwing a series of increasingly wild and out of control passes — often from Duane Washington Jr. — limiting their ability to increase their lead with Kaleb Wesson on the bench.
Due in large part to OSU’s seven first half turnovers, Iowa State went into intermission trailing by just two points, 26-24, despite going 15 consecutive possessions without a point.
In the first 20 minutes, the Buckeyes shot 35.7 percent (10-28) from the floor, but were significantly hampered by an 18.2 percent (2-11) performance from beyond the arc. On the converse, Iowa State shot a worse percentage from the field over all (29.6%, 8-27), but was redeemed a bit by a 4-for-12 mark (33.3%) from distance.
Despite racing out to a significant early advantage in terms of rebounds, the Cyclones were able to close that gap to an OSU 22-17 lead.
The only player in double-figures was Big 12 Tournament MVP Shayok, who went into the break with 13. Woods led all Buckeyes with 7.
With Kaleb Wesson back on the floor after the break, he was practically unstoppable in the paint. A play that the Buckeyes regularly ran in the early going of the second half saw the sophomore set a screen at the top of the key, and then body up his defender in the lane. His transition to post up position didn’t always allow the guard that he screened for to get him the ball, but at the latest, the second ball handler would dump the ball inside, and Wesson would have a practically uncontested path to the basket.
In addition to Kaleb Wesson, sophomore Musa Jallow showed a flair for the dramatic in the second half. After hitting a triple to open the scoring in the second 20 minutes, Woods found him on a fast-break for an emphatic alley-oop.
Trailing by six, 44-38, Kaleb Wesson got stuck covering a guard at the top of the key. Despite asking for a switch, no one was able to relieve the big man, leaving Kyle Young in no-man’s land. Because of that, the ball got swung to a wide-open Lindell Wigginton in the corner. Not only did the sophomore guard connect on the three, but Young came flailing at him, knocking him into the Cyclone bench, allowing Wigginton to complete to a four-point play with 11:41 remaining in regulation.
However, on the next trip, Kaleb Wesson fought for a rebound off of a Woods’ floater and powered through a maze of arms to hit a creative runner in the lane, while being fouled. The sophomore center converted on the free throw.
The two teams traded buckets and lazy/errant passes, as OSU held a 51-50 lead with 5:55 remaining in the second half. The scoring slowed down from there as the defenses ratcheted up their intensity. However, the combo of Woods and Kaleb Wesson kept the Buckeyes scoring as Shayok put the Cyclones on his back.
Trailing 60-56 with 21 seconds remaining, Wigginton hit a cold-blooded three-pointer to pull the Cyclones within a point.
After a timeout, Andre Wesson tried to get the entry pass into his brother, but it got away from him. Fortunately for OSU, it deflected off of an ISU defender. On the next in-bound attempt, Andre Wesson was forced to burn the Buckeyes’ final timeout. When they finally got the ball in it was in Woods’ hands, and the grad-transfer connected on both.
While the closing minutes were a bit harrowing, Ohio State was able to hold on, and get an unfathomably impressive win for a team that was considered a transition and rebuilding year.
The Buckeyes will take on the No. 3 Houston Cougars on Sunday for a bid into the Sweet 16. Game will tip 25 minutes following the conclusion of the No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Texas Tech game. The second round game will be broadcast on TNT.