COLUMBUS, Ohio — Down a critical piece to the team, the Ohio State Buckeyes responded with their best performance in weeks as they downed the Indiana Hoosiers, 68-59, on Saturday in Value City Arena.
Kaleb Wesson led the Buckeyes with 15 points and 11 rebounds, his eighth double-double of the season. C.J. Walker added 12 points in a career-high 35 minutes of action, and Justin Ahrens came off the bench to chip in 11 points.
Ohio State was playing their first game without freshman point guard D.J. Carton, who announced on Thursday that he would be taking a leave of absence from the team to address his mental health. Despite his absence, the Buckeyes had no issues finding points en route to a 46-percent shooting day and an important conference win.
Ohio State started strong, led by Wesson’s early effectiveness on the post. His jump hook and dunk on the Buckeyes’ first two possessions gave Ohio State the early 4-0 lead over Indiana.
In a flip of the script, Ohio State was the beneficiary of prolonged shooting slumps throughout the first half as Indiana struggled to find baskets for most of the opening 20 minutes. Following center Joey Brunk’s dunk at the 17:06 mark, giving Indiana a brief 7-6 lead, the Hoosiers went scoreless over the next 6:30, allowing Ohio State to take control of the game.
Through the Indiana scoring drought, Ohio State was able to build an eight-point lead thanks to baskets by Kyle Young and E.J. Liddell, as well as a pair of free throws by Duane Washington Jr.
Indiana would close on a 9-4 run to close the first half, capped off by a banked-in three-pointer from Devonte Green at the buzzer, to cut the Ohio State lead to nine points at 31-22 as the two teams went into the locker room.
Ohio State finished the first half shooting 43 percent while Indiana shot a respectable 40 percent. However, the Hoosiers’ nine turnovers were critical in the Buckeyes building a lead they would never be in danger of relinquishing in the second half.
A three-pointer by Indiana’s Rob Phinisee and a layup from Trayce Jackson-Davis had Indiana within six points just over a minute into the second half. But that would be as close as Indiana would get as Ohio State responded with back-to-back baskets from Wesson to push the lead back to double figures at 37-27 as the Buckeye center began to take over the game.
Following a three-pointer by his brother, Andre, Wesson connected on a three of his own and then added a jumper to give himself nine of Ohio State’s first 12 second-half points.
Indiana again found themselves marred in a scoring slump midway through the second half and combined with a flurry daggers off the hands of Ahrens, the Hoosiers wouldn’t threaten again.
Ahrens’ three-pointer with 8:31 remaining increased the Ohio State lead to 55-40, their largest lead of the day, and he was just getting started. On the next trip down, Ahrens was again found wide open for a spot-up three, which he buried to push the Buckeye lead to 58-40.
Ahrens connected again on the next possession for good measure, giving him 11 points for the day and nine over a two-minute stretch at the six-minute mark to put plenty of distance between Ohio State and Indiana.
From there, Ohio State would cruise to move to 4-6 in Big Ten play and 14-7 overall. The Buckeyes outrebounded Indiana, who came into the game as one of the better rebounding teams in the country, by seven rebounds, including an 11-4 advantage on the offensive glass that turned into eight second-chance points; Indiana did not record a second-chance point.
Holtmann said of Wesson’s big performance, “I thought Kaleb was terrific today … on both ends. He created some real opportunities for other guys, and I thought he protected the rim really well.”
Walker’s play will be critical to the team’s outlook moving forward with the unknown status of their other true point guard in Carton. Holtmann said of Walker’s play, “He’s a great kid. I think it speaks to team character, collective character … He’s got it.”
Holtmann said Walker understands what it takes to win as this season nears the final stretch. Asked if such a high workload will be the norm for Walker moving forward in the absence of Carton, Holtmann said guys like Washington will also need to step up to ease the load.
They will return to action on Tuesday when they travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan (12-8, 3-6). Tipoff for the game is set for 7 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.