On Ohio State team looking for stars, Duane Washington Jr. taking his shot(s)
For the Ohio State men's basketball team to enjoy success this season, its stars have to be stars on a nightly basis. It’s the reality on a team with multiple players stepping into new roles on a roster still figuring out who fits where.
Duane Washington Jr. knows his role. So does coach Chris Holtmann, every team the Buckeyes will face and probably anyone who has watched the junior guard play for a couple of minutes.
Long before his arrival at Ohio State, Washington established himself as a scorer, a go-to player who isn’t afraid to take a big shot or, sometimes just as often, force one up.
On this Ohio State team, which entered Wednesday’s game at Purdue undefeated through five games, it’s why Washington is a leading candidate to finish the year as the leading scorer. The junior leads the team in percentage of shots taken while on the court (28.4) and has the full backing of his coaching staff to keep shooting — within reason.
It’s a role Washington hopes will translate that into a memorable Big Ten season for the No. 20 Buckeyes.
“I feel like I still have a lot to prove and a lot of stuff that I need to work on going into these next couple of months, but it’s a blessing to be here, a blessing to go on the court with my brothers and play,” Washington told The Dispatch this week. “I’m really excited to hop into this Big Ten play, because that’s where stars are born.”
Washington is Ohio State’s leading returning scorer from a season ago, when he averaged 11.5 points per game in 28 appearances, including 15 starts. As the season progressed, his role expanded from shooting guard to the point, where he helped fill the void left when freshman DJ Carton left the team in midseason.
This season, his scoring is up to 14.8 points per game. That’s second-best behind E.J. Liddell, who was expected to miss the Purdue game while recovering from mononucleosis.
Washington is averaging a career-best 2.4 assists per game, exactly one turnover per game and playing an average of 30.2 minutes in a backcourt featuring only three true guards. His increased attention to detail on defense has been noticeable.
However, his scoring output is up while his shooting percentages are down. After shooting 41.4% from two-point range, 39.3% from three and 40.3% overall last year, those numbers sit at 37.9, 38.2 and 38.1, respectively, so far this year. In the process, he’s occasionally earned a quick hook from Holtmann after a forced shot or ill-advised drive.
“Duane’s a hungry scorer,” Holtmann said after a Dec. 2 win against Morehead State. “He’s got to understand that he’s going to get opportunities. He’s got to take advantage of trusting his teammates and trusting what a good look looks like.”
He's not alone in being counted upon to shoulder a heavy load. Liddell is growing into a consistent low- and mid-post threat, and Cal transfer Justice Sueing's ability to drive and get to the free-throw line will make him a featured part of any opposing scouting report.
As Washington’s role expanded last season, it kept pace with the expectations from Holtmann. And when he forced the issue too much, or took one ill-advised shot too many, Washington said the coach would fix him with a look that made him feel like “he’s staring through your whole soul.”
Even through Holtmann’s COVID-mandated facemask, Washington said the feeling still comes across.
“It’s his eyes and his body language,” Washington said. “Coming into my junior year, I was like, ‘I’m going to try to get less and less of those looks.’ But I know they come from his heart. In the heat of the moment it might sound different but I know he just wants me to be the best I can be and be the best player I can be for him.”
For coverage of Wednesday's Ohio State-Purdue game, visit BuckeyeXtra.com