Friday Night Fun At SJA

By Jeff Rapp, November 24th, 2018

The undefeated and 23rd-ranked Ohio State men’s basketball team was supposed to dispose of visiting Cleveland State on Friday night and did just that, eventually pulling away for an 89-62 win to improve to 6-0 on the season.

Still, starting center Kaleb Wesson seemed to sum up the feelings of the majority of onlookers and nostalgic Buckeye fans when he simply said moments after the win, “This was special.”

His reason was simple: St. John Arena.

Kaleb and his brother, Andre Wesson, not only are OSU teammates, fellow starters and central Ohio kids; they also are the offspring of Keith Wesson, who once played for Eldon Miller at SJA and instantly loved the place.

So the Wessons have a deeper appreciation than your average OSU student-athlete for the rich history and tradition of old St. John, named for former athletic director and OSU pioneer Lynn St. John. And their teammates appeared to share their enthusiasm for playing where the likes of Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Bill Hosket, Kelvin Ransey, Clark Kellogg, Dennis Hopson and Jim Jackson once toiled.

Long after the game ended, popular reserve point guard Joey Lane emerged from the antiquated home locker room to pose for pictures with family and friends in his vintage-looking jersey that included the a script “Buckeyes” across the chest. Herb Williams, eat your heart out.

The Buckeye Nut House student section, normally shoved behind the benches at the Schottenstein Center, was moved to behind the east basket and next to the pep band. They harassed the Vikings players, roared approval of a late three by Lane and broke into songs like “Don’t Give a Damn” throughout the game to keep the crowd revved about tomorrow’s little gridiron matchup with The Team Up North.

The sound system blared songs like “Let’s Groove Tonight” and “Night Fever” as a reminder of the music selection of years when SJA was in peak mode. The place was packed to the rather steep upper reaches – and loud.

At one point, OSU head coach Chris Holtmann leaned forward to read the possession arrow at the scorer’s table, clearly unaware of where it was lit on the corner scoreboards. The OSU marketing team also added to the mood by showing bubble-gum card-like images of the starters on the center-hung scoreboard.

St. John opened in 1956 and served as the home gym for the hoops team until 1998, when The Schott was built down Lane Avenue and opened for business. Cleveland State was plucky but no match for the Buckeyes, shooting just 35.0 percent from the field and committing 18 turnovers.

But the in-state opposition wasn’t the attraction on this night – and fun-filled arena loaded with decades of wonderful memories was. A sellout crowd of 13,276 filled the arena and watched OSU rack up a convincing win on the eve of The Game.

It was just the sixth time OSU has returned to St. John since 1998 and the first time in eight years.

The Buckeyes (6-0) got solid play on both ends of the floor from all five starters and were led by Kaleb Wesson’s 19 points. Point guard C.J. Jackson added 17, wing Andre Wesson chipped in 11 and freshman guard Luther Muhammad posted 10 more. Power forward Kyle Young helped OSU find an early groove and logged eight points.

Stefan Kenic led Cleveland State (2-4) with 13 points and Seth Millner added 10.

The Buckeyes were playing their fourth game in nine days and are feeling a bit of urgency with Syracuse next up on the agenda on Wednesday night (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2) as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

That game will be played at The Schott on national television to presumably a larger audience. But it won’t be any more enjoyable.

The OSU players sing the alma mater and salute the fans.