Wesson's Bounce-Back Performance Bodes Well for Buckeyes

Bruce Hooley

Kaleb Wesson needed to play like he did Sunday because he didn't play that way Thursday.

The question is: Can Ohio State count on him to play that way again from here on out?

Wesson's 15 points and nine rebounds were crucial to the No. 23 Buckeyes' 79-72 upset of No. 7 Maryland on Sunday.

That win -- OSU's fourth against a team ranked in the Top Ten at tip-off -- also wouldn't have happened without Wesson's defense on Maryland's 6-10 Jalen Smith and Wesson's ball-screen, hedge-and-recovery work retarding the Terps' Anthony Cowan's efforts to get to the basket off high ball screens.

Couple all that with the fact Wesson played 37 minutes, without being in foul trouble, while sending Smith to the bench for extended first-half minutes with two personals, and it ranks with the best game Wesson has played this season.

It followed one of his worst, however, in OSU's loss three days before at Iowa, where Luka Garza outscored him 24-10 in a match-up that wasn't as close as the numbers suggest.

"Any competitor takes disappointing performances (hard)," OSU coach Chris Holtmann said. "Certainly the way we played (at Iowa) was not on Kaleb by any stretch. People want to make it a one-on-one battle. It was not that.

"It was our team against their team. They beat us the other night. They played better, they coached better the other night. So all of us take those moments and try to figure out how we could be better.

"That had to be our response the next day. It had to be. Shame on us if it's not our response. If we didn't come back the next day in practice with, 'How do we get better? If you didn't lose a little sleep that night and figure out how do we be better, then shame on us.

"He did that. He's a competitor. He responded in that way."

Wesson was, indeed, fantastic, and that's how Ohio State will need him to win Thursday at Nebraska without starting forward Kyle Young (ankle) and in upcoming games against Michigan on Sunday.

Wesson played the Wolverines' 7-2 John Teske into the dust in OSU's win at Ann Arbor, so he'll be out for revenge.

The final week matches Wesson against Illinois' seven-footer Kofi Cockburn (13.6, 8.9) and Michigan State's always-physical front line.

The Buckeyes could lose all four of those games if Wesson lapses into the ghost he was in a home loss to Minnesota (1-for-10, two points) and a road loss at Wisconsin (2-of-11, eight points).

It's such maddeningly-passive performances juxtaposed against what Wesson did Sunday and what he did in a victory at Michigan (23 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals) that make him the hardest player to predict on OSU's roster.

He leads the team in scoring and rebounding, which suggests a certain consistency, but lurking in the background is always the threat of him evaporating when the Buckeyes need him most.

"When Kaleb plays like this he impacts the game at a high level on both ends," Holtmann said Sunday. "He plays like one of best bigs in the country on both ends."

Wesson can assuredly be that, and if he is, OSU (18-9, 8-8) is a load to play, particularly when Duane Washington, Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson and C.J. Walker are shooting around 40% from three.

That stretches the defense and allows Wesson space in the post, or it frees him for his own three-pointer after setting a screen out front for another shooter who commands attention.

"What he makes so difficult when you can put him in different spots and invert the offense," Holtmann said. "There's a reason why we were 13th out of 14 teams last year in offensive efficiency and going into this game we were fourth. His ability to make it difficult for teams to figure out how they're going to defend some of that stuff has been criticial."

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