COLUMBUS — The timing of the suspension was far from ideal for Ohio State at the end of the regular season. But Kaleb Wesson will be back for the program when the postseason begins.
After missing three games for a violation of athletic department policy, the star sophomore for the Buckeyes has been cleared for a return in what is shaping up to be an NCAA Tournament play-in game against Indiana on Thursday in the Big Ten tournament.
Ohio State could have relieved some of the pressure with one win down the stretch without Wesson, and it nearly pulled off a stunning comeback on Sunday against Wisconsin during the final game of his punishment. But the bid remains in reach, and Wesson will have a chance to make up for his absence against the Hoosiers.
“Kaleb Wesson will play,” Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said on Monday. “It was obviously a challenge [without him], beyond the fact that we were playing good teams and two of those were on the road. It was a challenge, and it’s different if you know he’s going to come back versus not expecting him to come back.
“We did try to tweak and change, and obviously we’ve played without him for portions of the season for sure. … I’m not sure we always handled that quite as well as we could have.”
The Buckeyes nearly managed to steal a win without Wesson in the regular-season finale against the Badgers. But the fact that it took a miraculous rally from a 23-point deficit was also a reminder of just how much Wesson was missed by Ohio State, particularly after a dreadful first half on offense that was reminiscent of problems the game before in an ugly loss at Northwestern.
Wesson’s value as a scorer, rebounder, passer and defensive presence when he’s not in foul trouble are all critical for the Buckeyes. And they’ll need to put their best foot forward to claim a victory in Chicago that could earn Holtmann’s program a second consecutive trip to the Big Dance.
“I don’t think we can expect too much, I think we have to be careful not to expect too much,” Holtmann said. “But obviously it’s nice to have him back.
“[Conditioning] is a concern. I think anytime you have a guy who, if he’s off even a couple days, we’re worried about his conditioning, much less 14 days. Having said that, trust me, he’s done early-morning workouts and afternoon workouts and sometimes twice a day, both conditioning and basketball workouts throughout this stretch.”
The period without game reps for Kaleb Wesson is now over. And if nothing else, at least the timing for the end of the suspension could work out for Ohio State and its final push for an NCAA Tournament bid.