Mark Znidar
Mark Znidar

Mark Znidar comes to Press Pros Magazine after 33 ½ years at The Columbus Dispatch. From 1996 until September 2018, he staffed high school sports, Ohio colleges that included the Mid-American Conference, Ohio State’s upcoming opponents in football and Ohio State baseball. In the previous three seasons he covered the Columbus Clippers triple-A baseball team. His other beats were Ohio State basketball (1985-88), Clippers (1985-86 and 1989-93), Cincinnati Bengals (1993-95) and NASCAR (1994-2008). He subbed on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ohio State women’s basketball beats. In March 2017, Znidar was inducted into the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.  Znidar was born in Cleveland and raised in Richmond Heights. He graduated from Cleveland St. Joseph High School and the University of Dayton. He also worked for The Atlantic City Press, Lake County News-Herald and Baltimore News-American. He has a daughter, Amanda, son-in-law Josh and four grandchildren.

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Kaleb Wesson was money, and the had the opposition talking, as the Buckeyes won their 14th (4-6 in Big Ten) before 14,961 at the Schott.

Columbus – It was 27 seconds into the game when the crowd at The Schott had one of those ‘oh, no’ moments as Rutgers guard Geo Baker passed up a wide-open three-pointer and drove the lane.

Baker barged his way into three Ohio State defenders, one of whom was Kaleb Wesson.

Seven of the previous 10 games ended with Wesson having four fouls. He fouled out in two others.

The whistle blew and this time it was Baker getting nailed for a charge.

Wesson did a lot more than exhale in relief in scoring 17 of Ohio State’s first 20 points to finish with 27 in being the front man in a 76-62 victory before 14,961 on Saturday afternoon.

It was the second victory in three games for the Buckeyes (14-7, 4-6) after they lost five straight in a free-fall to near the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

What did Wesson think after having arguably his best conference game and being on the floor at the end to soak it all in? He also had seven rebounds, five assists, one block and one steal.

“A little bit (of satisfaction),’’ he said. “Just relief, but we’ve got to get back to the next game. There’s a lot of season left and we’ve got a lot of things to accomplish.’’

As for the best start of a game in his life as a college player, Wesson said, “I really didn’t know. I wasn’t paying attention and I was just playing. You just get lost in the game.’’

It was his most complete and dominant game since totaling 25 points and 12 rebounds against Michigan State.

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Wesson was 10-for-12 shooting, including 3 of 4 from three-point range.

“He’s allowed to do that,’’ Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said of the threes with a deadpan expression. “I think he took what the defense gave him. Obviously he was on a roll and he knew he was on a roll. You heard me in the summer say, we need him to shoot threes and he has great touch. We’ve charted every shooting drill and he is top five or six.’’

Wesson not only has been a talking point in the conference for getting into foul trouble, but also for several temper tantrums directed at officials.

In a loss to Michigan on Tuesday, he got into an argument with Wolverines point guard Xavier Simpson and close to a dust-up with Jon Teske and Jordan Poole when they put hands on him in attempts to calm him down. He got a technical foul.

There were no such moments Saturday because the big guy had it his way most of the time. He got two fouls and drew seven.

“It has been rough, but I just have to calm myself and control what I can control,’’ Wesson said. “I’m not a calm guy. I’m a competitor. When things are happening, my first reaction is to react. You have to step back and see what the refs are seeing.’’

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The three-pointers were a big lift for Ohio State, but Wesson also was in control and under control on the block. He often made one quick move to the basket and put up a shot, whereas in previous games he tried multiple moves if the first move was defended.

Holtmann has been working with Wesson in practice about not allowing defenders to dig in.

“People have not been going for his second or third moves – they’ve just been walling up,’’ Holtmann said. “The decisiveness in his moves are really, really important. If they counter and they wall you up, then he can kick it out.’’

On defense, Wesson has been concentrating on showing his hands to officials so they know he’s not grabbing or pushing.

This is not the same Rutgers team that upset the Buckeyes 64-61 when they were ranked 16th on January 9.

The Knights (11-10, 4-7), who have one senior on the roster, came in having defeated Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana in succession.

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said Wesson was the difference yesterday.

“When the big guy is shooting threes like that, Wesson, and C.J. is making his shots they are a real tough team,’’ Pikiell said. “You watch all the tapes and everyone tries to slow him down. But when he’s making threes like that, that’s a problem. You can take away only so many things. He was 3-for-4 when he steps out and he’s a problem around the basket. I thought he was outstanding. He got off to a great start and kind of carried them.’’

C.J. Jackson totaled 20 points, three assists and one steal and had one turnover in 34 minutes, 42 seconds.

Freshman guard Luther Muhammad had 12 points, two rebounds and two assists.

Jackson played like a senior captain in the second half in scoring 17 points.

“We just wanted to stay aggressive and finish the 40 minutes, which is what we’re always talking about,’’ he said.

As for winning two of three games, Jackson said he’s glad the calendar has turned to a new month. The team was 1-6 last month.

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“We had a tough January, and all you can do is look to February,’’ he said.

Keep in mind that Rutgers had 6-foot-7, 240-pound block of cement Eugene Omoruyi play for 31-plus minutes. He totaled 19 points, six assists and six rebounds. In the first game, he dislocated his left knee and played seven minutes.

Ohio State had its second-best game from behind the three-point line this season in making 13 of 28. The team was 14-for-28 in a victory over Purdue-Fort Wayne.

“We did look at some things in how they guarded us the first time that we needed to do differently to free up some of our shooters,’’ Holtmann said. “Those (threes) were effective, but a lot of it is, are you making or are you missing? I think the quality of our shots was as good as they have been.’’

Ohio State didn’t have a turnover until 18:41 remained in the second half and had six for the game.

In conference games, the team was averaging 14.4 turnovers and had 19 against Michigan.

“We’ve been preaching in practice (about limiting) turnovers,’’ Jackson said. “The last couple of games we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers. I think the last game we had 19. When you play against teams in the Big Ten that are physical and hard to score on and then you turn the ball over, you’re going to be in for a long night. We didn’t have too many mishaps tonight. Everyone was pretty much connected. ’’

Veteran columnist Mark Znidar writes the Buckeyes for Press Pros Magazine.com.

Ah, but not so fast. Holtmann said Rutgers’ defense, like Michigan State’s, is geared toward containment more than forcing turnovers.

“I can’t say, hey, we have corrected our turnover issue,’’ he said. “We haven’t. We did some good things today, but we have to do a better job.’’

Up next is a home game against Penn State on Thursday. The Lions are dead last in the Big Ten, but Holtmann pointed out that they were 3-0 against Ohio State last season.

This is a stretch of winnable game – after Penn State come Indiana and Illinois – but Holtmann said “coaches don’t think like that way’’ because it’s always about the next game.

Wesson, though, thinks the Buckeyes have a lot going for them. One NCAA tournament bracket junkie has them a 10th seed.

“To this day I still think we’re on the same level (as Michigan State),’’ he said. “I think we can pretty much beat anyone in the country.’’

 

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