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, and four grandchildren.

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The Buckeyes mixed nostalgia with contemporary fact – they’re playing like a team that can adept to any building – 89-62 winners in a Friday night blowout over Cleveland State.

Columbus – The sounds of Super Tramp, Billy Joel, Lover Boy and Sister Sledge blared from the overhead scoreboard audio system, and it wasn’t because Ohio State hired a crazed Baby Boomer to be behind the controls for the night.

There were a lot of smiling people with gray hair and receding hairlines filing into the building for Ohio State’s game against Cleveland State on Friday night because it was much more than a throwback theme.

The Buckeyes moved out of the drafty monstrosity sitting on the corner of Woody Hayes Drive and Olentangy River Road otherwise known as Value City Arena for a nostalgic trip inside that fading old girl St. John Arena on Friday night.

Second-year coach Chris Holtmann wants the team to play at least one game per season in the octagonal-shaped arena that was home from 1957-58 through 1997-98.

The university even had the team outfitted in throwback uniforms.

But there was business to be tended to first and foremost, and Ohio State dispatched a rebuilding Vikings team 89-62 that starts three sophomores, a freshman and sophomore.

It was the team’s first game in the arena since 2010 against Western Carolina, and it was a legitimate sellout of 13,276.

It figured the Buckeyes would have little trouble with Cleveland State. They are 25-1 against teams from the Horizon League, with the loss coming against the Vikings in 1994.

Holtmann dressed for the occasion – sort of – by wearing a sport coat that was a cross between salmon and mauve.

Then he walked into the post-game news conference wearing a No. 45 football jersey. He couldn’t wait to watch his first Ohio State-Michigan game at Ohio Stadium.

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“It was a fun night and something we anticipate doing on a regular basis,’’ he said of playing in St. John. “But the Schottenstein Center is our home. (St. John) is a great venue. This was a fun night for Buckeye Nation. It’s a 10 out of 10 for me with this experience.’’

Brothers Kaleb and Andre Wesson said it was a special night. Their parents told them to be humble in text messages and to keep their heads in the game.

The team practiced twice in the arena and actually had to bus over from Value City Arena. The tough job was for the logistics team that had to get the building up and ready for the masses.

But it wasn’t so nostalgic standing in the long lines to the restrooms and concessions stands. And it was hot.

Andre Wesson had fun playing in the same arena his father, Keith, played in during the ‘80s. But The Schott is all he had known until last night.

“I think we actually heard it more since we’ve been here than growing up,’’ Wesson said of fans yearning a permanent return to St. John. “It was fun. I see why so many people want us to play here. But at the end of the day The Schott is still our home.’’

Holtmann coached Butler for three seasons in one of the all-time classic basketball barns of the college game, Hinkle Fieldhouse, and was excited to see and hear what long-time fans had been gushing about.

He also was interested to see how the players would handle their third game in six days and fourth in nine.

Cleveland State (2-3), which got one of its victories against Urbana, was within 38-29 at halftime thanks to taking down 10 offensive rebounds and getting 10 second-chance points.

The second half was what everyone came to see, and that was a one-sided show.

Senior C.J. Jackson shook off his shooting slump to score 17 points.

Kaleb Wesson led with 19 points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists. Senior guard C.J. Jackson was next with 17 points. He shook a shooting slump of three games by making 7 of 10 shots, including 3 of 4 from three-point range.

Vikings coach Dennis Felton has been around basketball a lot as a head coach at Western Kentucky and Georgia and NBA scout and director of player personnel. He was impressed with Ohio State.

“Ohio State has a good team for a lot of the right reasons,’’ he said. “They play with a lot of physicality. They play hard consistently. They are organized, play with conviction, they have good pieces and put pressure on the rim with their driving.’’

Felton told his coaching staff that the Buckeyes deserved their No. 23 national ranking in Associated Press.

“Mostly, it’s about how hard they play and their discipline and organization,’’ he said.

So what about that jacket Holtmann wore?

It was his plan to wear something special for the occasion, and he went to his tailor to talk it over. His wife went with him.

Kaleb Wesson said it was a pretty good look.

“Everyone was saying that jacket was ugly, but I liked it,’’ he said. “It had a little drip to it.’’

Holtmann, as we found out, had little to do with picking out the color and style.

“He said, ‘Hey, is there a special game you want a special jacket?’’’ he said of the tailor. “I said, ‘No, no.’ Dark suit, scarlet tie, I’m good with that most games. My wife unfortunately was in the room and she said we’ve got a game in St. John Arena and let’s make a special jacket for that. I got it about a month ago and finally put it on today. I walked downstairs, looked in the mirror and had some serious second thoughts. If my wife was not there pushing me out the door you’d probably see me in a dark suit.’’

The jacket might have a second life because of the victory. He wore a hounds tooth jacket for a game at Butler.

“We lost the game and I never wore it again,’’ he said.

It was the third game in six days and the fourth in nine days. Holtmann saluted Cleveland State for playing so hard and forcing his team to dig deep.

“I give Cleveland State a lot of credit for physically challenging us,’’ he said. “I was good for us. It was good to see us respond.’’

The Buckeyes started the second half with conviction with a 18-7 run to lead 58-36 with 13:32 left on a 12-foot jumper by senior guard Keyshawn Woods.  What triggered the burst was getting the ball inside to Kaleb Wesson or driving to the hoop.

“Going into the game the plan was to get the ball to play inside and to play inside out,’’ Andre Wesson said. “It was something we definitely tried to emphasize in the second half.’’

Ohio State really got on a roll when Woods leaped out of bounds for a ball and bounced it off a prone Cleveland State player to get possession. Then Jackson zipped a no-look pass to Kaleb Wesson for a layup that made it 62-38.

The crowd began filing out at about that time, but Ohio State kept pouring it on. The lead grew to 74-43 with 9:09 left on a three-pointer by Andre Wesson.

The spread became 81-53 with 5:26 left on two free throws by freshman forward Jaedon LeDee.

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

By then, the “Nut House”cheering section began chanting “We don’t give a damn about the whole state of Michigan.”

Perhaps the exclamation point came when senior walk-on Joey Lane cranked in a trey with 3:42 left. The student section began chanting his name minutes before he reported to the scorer’s table.

Holtmann wasn’t totally sold on the output. He still frets about the team giving up too many offensive rebounds and consistency with the precision of the floor game, saying those come and go.

“I didn’t like our decision-making and shot selection in the first half,” he said.

Next up is Syracuse in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge on Wednesday in Value City Arena.

It’s a good bet the ’70s and ’80s music will be replaced by rap and hip-hop.

Moeller Brew Barn, of Maria Stein, Ohio, proudly sponsors the Buckeyes on Press Pros.

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