COLUMBUS, Ohio — Don’t flinch.
That was the message Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann had for his young Buckeyes, trailing for the first time at the half against undefeated Samford after shooting just 37.5 percent from the field.
Those words provided the necessary motivation, as Kaleb Wesson scored 17 points and Keyshawn Woods added 14 to help No. 23 Ohio State beat scrappy Samford 68-50 on Tuesday night for its fifth straight victory to begin the season.
Ohio State seemed out of sync from the opening tip, with Holtmann benching four starters for being late to “game-day preparation,” according to the school. Samford shot 50 percent in the first half and led 32-29 at the break.
“I thought in the first half we couldn’t have stuck to our game plan any better than what we did,” Samford coach Scott Padgett said. “We made shots, so we were able to get in our press, which then slowed down the tempo of the game, and kind of brought it to a grinding halt.
“Watching them on film, that was the only way I thought we had a chance.”
Momentum shifted with 16:27 remaining, when C.J. Jackson dove into the stands to save a ball headed out of bounds, starting a relay from Luther Muhammad to Woods that ended with Andre Wesson hitting a 3-pointer.
The play seemed to spark Ohio State (5-0), which went on a 21-3 run that sealed the win. The Buckeyes shot 50 percent from the field in the second half to 24 percent for Samford (5-1).
“I think it was a momentum play, for sure,” Holtmann said. “It was a fantastic series of saves by (Jackson) and Luther, and Key was somehow involved. I had my eyes shut for most of it.
“It was a fantastic hustle play that I think was critical. It fired up our crowd.”
Junior guard Myron Gordon led the way for the Bulldogs, shooting 6 for 8 in the first half and finishing with 18 points.
Ohio State came in ranked for the first time this season but had to fight hard for the win.
Samford is rebuilding after losing 10 players, including all five starters, from last season’s 10-22 team. But the Bulldogs showed they have the talent to keep pace for a half with a nationally ranked Big Ten opponent.
Both teams had to make do without much from their leading scorers. Jackson, who averages 12.8 points per game, shot 2 for 11 and finished with eight points. Samford center Ruben Guerrero averages 17 points but had just two against Ohio State.
HE SAID IT
“There is so much social media. If I get 15 points tonight the whole world is going to know on social media and I am going to get 2,500 likes and all this stuff. Because of that, kids care about it more now,” Padgett said. “They want to get that attention through social media. Now, all of a sudden, it’s a little harder to get them to care about the name on the front, not the name on the back.”
Ohio State signed three Top 50 recruits Tuesday, as Alonzo Gaffney, E.J. Liddell and D.J. Carton all inked national letters of intent. … Ohio State is 19-1 vs. the teams that currently make up the Southern Conference. … The Bulldogs have lost seven of their last nine road games. … Samford is off to its best start since the 1996-97 season.
Samford: Makes the last stop on a three-game road trip Friday night at Fort Wayne.
Ohio State: Looks to extend its season-opening win streak to six games at sold-out St. John Arena on Friday night against Cleveland State, which lost at home to Samford by 13 points Sunday.