CLEVELAND – Ohio State junior Kaleb Wesson is as unique of an offensive player as there is in college basketball this season.
At 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, his size alone can create matchup problems for teams that lack similar size inside. Add in his ability to shoot from the perimeter and guarding Wesson creates a puzzle that few teams have solved so far this season.
In order to upset the No. 2 Buckeyes Sunday, the Mountaineers needed to find a way to contain Wesson, and they did just that in the 65-59 victory.
With the 6-foot-10, 255 pound Derek Culver and the 6-foot-9, 258 pound Oscar Tshiebwe West Virginia had enough size to contend with Wesson in the paint, but neither Culver or Tshiebwe have much experience guarding the perimeter. Enter, Gabe Osabuohien.
Osabuohien is a 6-foot-7, 235-pound junior who transferred to WVU from Arkansas this season. Coach Bob Huggins has touted him as being the team’s best big man when it comes to both passing and guarding the perimeter. He spent a lot of time guarding Wesson on Sunday and the Mountaineers held Ohio State’s leading scorer to just 3-11 shooting from the floor including 1-4 from three-point range. Wesson finished as the Buckeyes’ leading scorer, but only because he made 10-15 free throws.
“Gabe did everything he was supposed to, and then some on top of that,” Culver said after the victory. “He’s a player, he comes in, he works hard, he doesn’t really care about his personal accolades or anything like that. He just comes in and makes the team better and encourages his teammates.”
Osabuohien finished with just three points on 1-7 shooting but also grabbed two boards, had three assists, three steals and a block.
“I thought (Osabuohien) was really good, we’ve got to get him to make a layup every once in a while,” Huggins joked postgame. “Defensively, he was terrific.”
Osabuohien said his main strategy against Wesson was to not let Wesson take advantage of his superior size by staying off of him.
“I was wrestling with Kaleb a lot the whole game just to not let him feel me and get around him,” Osabuohien explained. “That’s what he wants to do is feel you on his body and I didn’t let him to that today.”
The 16,000-plus person crowd at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse Sunday made it difficult at times for the players on the floor to communicate with one another, but Culver said Osabuohien was able to help the whole team on defense.
“He really helped us, a lot. Him coming in and helping us, talking to us, help-side defense and staying on the line and up the line, and just communication,” Culver said. “You don’t really understand how big communication is on defense when you can’t hear someone and you’re just going off signals and then someone will tell you a signal and it turns out to be right, you put your trust in that person to have your back.
“(Osabuohien) taking those charges and helping out defensively, walling up without fouling, which was big at the end of the game. Things like that I give Gabe the credit.”
The 31 minutes played Sunday was the most Osabuohien has played in a game this season by far. This being his year season as a Mountaineer, Osabuohien said Huggins’ philosophies play perfectly into his strengths.
“He wants us to be the hardest playing team on the floor at all times. Just seeing us getting steals, diving on the floor for loose balls, taking charges, that just makes my day,” Osabuohien said. “I know that I’m giving 100% and my teammates are giving just as much as me.
“After the first timeout, Huggs called us in and said, ‘as you can see, it’s going to be a rough game, and that’s what we want’. Ever since then we just put our hard hats on and went and played hard.”
Sunday’s victory comes just ahead of the Big 12 play for West Virginia. The Mountaineers will next travel to Lawrence, Kansas to take on the No. 5 Jayhawks on Jan 4. This victory over Ohio State has the team feeling a little more confident than before.
“If they were number two and we were able to beat them, having a bad game, it just makes you think ‘what can we do?’,” Osabuohien said. “And we’re not even halfway to our potential yet.”