They’ve lost four straight games and one half of their front court size is missing because of a stress fracture. Not the kind of momentum you want when you’re about to play Purdue, but the Buckeyes have no choice.
As if the Boilermakers weren’t daunting enough with 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms, rising 6-8, 280-pound freshman Trevion Williams, three-point artist Ryan Cline, and almost everybody’s All-American Carsen Edwards, the Buckeyes will go eyeball to eyeball with them minus forward Kyle Young.
Young, a sophomore who is leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage at 73.2, will be out indefinitely with a stress fracture of the lower right leg.
It’s not known how he was injured, but a hard fall against Maryland six days ago probably contributed to his problems.
Ohio State (12-5, 2-4) has lost four straight games and didn’t need an obstacle like this going into a game against Purdue (12-6, 5-2) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at The Schott.
Only Michigan and Michigan State have been as hot as Purdue. It has won six of its last seven games, including over Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana.
“The exact timeline on his return is up in the air,’’ Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said of Young. “We expect him to be out several weeks. Obviously Kyle has performed well as a sophomore and come into his own a little bit in a lot of ways. He has really made a step forward as a player and has been an instrumental part of this team in every way. You hate it for him and obviously for our team.’’
Young is averaging modest totals of 7.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in getting 22 minutes playing time, but he has been something of a rim attacker with several dunks off alley-oop passes and some spectacular tip-ins. He has blocked seven shots.
Plus, he had been the only “big man’’ behind 6-9 center Kaleb Wesson.
“When you first hear something like that, that you have to sit out, I was disappointed,’’ Young said. “I want to be with these guys. I have to be the best teammate I can in helping them in other ways – my energy (cheering) off the bench and stuff like that.’’
The tumble against Maryland, he said, was hard, but he didn’t think anything of it at the time.
“I just tried to shake it off,’’ Young said. “I’ve had some soreness in my legs, but I don’t know if that’s what it was. It could have been a buildup of things. I’ve got to stay positive. We’ll get through this. I’ll come back.’’
The Buckeyes are so height challenged that 6-4 Andre Wesson must become his brother’s backup.
Holtmann said 6-9 freshman Jaedon LeDee, 6-5 sophomore Musa Jallow and 6-5 freshman Justin Ahrens of Versailles will step up in the rotation.
Jallow has played in 17 games, starting once, and is averaging 11.8 minutes. LeDee has played in 15 games, starting one, and averaged 6.9 minutes. Ahrens averaged 5.2 minutes in 10 games.
“It definitely hurts, especially losing somebody as valuable as Kyle,’’ Andre Wesson said. “You have to keep that next man up mentality and the next guy has to step up. (Playing with a small lineup) is definitely something that we’ve talked about. We’ve pretty much been outsized all year.’’
Holtmann wouldn’t give specifics about who would play when in Young’s absence because the injury is that fresh.
“Without getting too specific – in think that’s something we’re still evaluating here – I think it will be a combination of a number of guys,’’ he said. “I think it will be a combination of J, Musa and Justin.’’
LeDee is a four-star recruit from Houston, but has been brought along slowly as a power forward by design. He simply didn’t play against many players his size in high school.
“With J, we’re teaching him one position right now because there is a learning curve right there,’’ Holtmann said. “We’re trying not to overwhelm him,’’
In his short body of work, LeDee has displayed excellent touch from the free throw line, that he is comfortable attempting jump shots from the perimeter and isn’t afraid to bang around underneath the basket.
LeDee can, though, get into foul trouble in a hurry.
“I think his learning curve has been significant just in general, but primarily at the defensive end,’’ Holtmann said. “In high school, he was bigger than everybody else and his ball-screen coverage was to wait around the rim and block the shot. Maybe it wasn’t as simple as that. There is a learning curve there. He is a really good ball handler for a bigger kid, his footwork has really improved and his understanding of plays you can make and can’t make is growing, but it’s a process. He has had a great attitude and a great approach. He has got to learn to play without fouling, which is a little bit of an issue for a bigger guy, and his defense has got to continue to improve.’’
Holtmann gave little thought about red-shirting Ahrens because he thought he’d be needed. More and more, he has been checking into games earlier.
“Justin, I think, is trying to adapt to the physicality and the athleticism and the length that he is facing,’’ Holtmann said. “All of our freshmen are continuing to learn what’s a play you can make at this level and what can’t you get away with. Some of that has resulted in blocked shots or turnovers or poorly missed shots. There is no better teacher than experience.’’
Purdue was 6-5 and struggling when coach Matt Painter began giving Williams more minutes. He was a four-star recruit out of Henry Ford Academy in Detroit in averaging 22 points and 25 rebounds as a senior, but arrived on campus weighing 320 pounds thanks to a broken foot.
Williams was so out of shape that he labored running up and down the court and couldn’t dunk.
Forty pounds later, Williams has returned Purdue to the post-season conversation. He has scored 12, 11, 13 and four points the last four games. Against Rutgers, he totaled 16 points and 13 rebounds.
His emergence has helped take weight off lead guard Carsen Edwards. The 6-foot junior ranks fourth nationally in scoring at 24.6 per game. He leads the Big Ten in three-pointers per game at 3.8.
“He has been tremendous for them, a tremendous asset,’’ Holtmann said of Williams. “He is a gifted low post scorer. We saw him in high school and knew he was a terrific low post scorer. He is a terrific back to the basket threat. He plays with a terrific motor.’’
Edwards generally is regarded as the Big Ten’s best player. He hit up Texas for 40 points and seven three-pointers. He also had seven treys against Fairfield and Florida State. He averages 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 4.8 rebounds.
“Whatever is less than a sliver, that’s all he needs (to get a shot off),’’ Holtmann said. “I saw him in high school and you saw the burst and athleticism where he had the ability to literally sprint into a shot from either angle, his left or right, and raise up (for a shot). We’ve all see his highlights where he can get to the rim and punch on somebody.’’