Ohio State hoops notebook: CJ Walker, Kyle Young respond to benching at Purdue
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – For much of this short season, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann has been harping on the play of his two seniors.
Wednesday night in the Big Ten opener for the No. 20 Buckeyes, he stopped harping and sent a message. When undefeated Ohio State took the court at Mackey Arena to face a 4-2 Purdue team that promised to bring plenty of size and physicality, it did so with CJ Walker and Kyle Young watching from the bench.
In what would be a 67-60 Boilermakers win, Holtmann shook up his starting lineup in a big way by giving their first Ohio State starts to Bucknell transfer guard Jimmy Sotos and freshman center Zed Key. It ultimately had little effect on the final outcome – Young entered the night averaging 23.5 minutes per game and played 24, while Walker played 35 minutes after averaging 31.6 – but it showed that Holtmann is serious about needing more from his leaders.
“They’re terrific guys,” Holtmann said. “They’re terrific leaders. They’re the kind of people that you want. I thought they responded fine, as I knew they would. I thought both guys responded well and played a lot and played well in stretches, but we have to collectively do better. That’s on our leadership, our captains and myself.”
In Sunday’s win against Cleveland State, Young played a season-low 16:41, went scoreless for the first time all season and nabbed only two rebounds. In his two games leading into the Purdue game, he totaled three points and six rebounds while shooting 1 for 7 from the floor including a pair of three-point misses.
Walker entered Wednesday’s game with a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio with 20 assists and 10 giveaways, but five of his turnovers had come during the last two games while shooting a combined 8 for 22 from the floor.
The two both entered the game before the first media timeout, checking in with 16:23 to play in the first half.
“He just wanted us to play harder,” Walker said of the message being sent by Holtmann. “Be more leaders on both sides of the floor. Give more effort. Be vocal. A reality check to not play entitled.”
Walker hardly came out of the game from that point. He did not sit during the remainder of the first half and, during the second half, played all but 109 seconds. The senior finished with a season-low six points, ending a streak of 11 consecutive games scoring in double figures, but did dish out a career-high-tying seven assists.
Young’s scoring struggles continued, as he finished with six points on 3-of-7 shooting, but he pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
“That was just for us to be better leaders,” he said. “For me I’ve got to play tougher. I’ve got to play at a higher level. The past two games I don’t feel like I was able to reach the level I can play at. Tonight was trying to ratchet that up. With every game we play, my goal is to keep getting better in that area. That’s the type of player I need to be: toughness, motor, all that good stuff.”
Following the Cleveland State game, Holtmann said Young was dealing with some ankle soreness. He has a history of leg injuries that have caused him to miss time both in games and practice during the last two seasons, and he left Mackey Arena after the game with a walking boot on his right foot.
Holtmann reaffirmed his belief in his captains, downplaying a question about making such a move in what was perceived as a winnable conference game. The Buckeyes were already shorthanded without E.J. Liddell, Ibrahima Diallo or Seth Towns available.
“The kid Trevion Williams (for Purdue) was benched a game ago and didn’t start this game,” he said. “They’re great kids, terrific kids. They’re great leaders. It is what it is. They responded like I knew they would. They know we need more out of them if we’re going to have a good team. I thought they both had really good moments tonight.”
Sotos finished with three points in seven minutes. Key had five points, three rebounds and a block in a career-high 22 minutes.
The Williams issue
To double or not to double?
Given the lack of size the Buckeyes bring to the post, they spent the first half attempting to double-team Williams. When that didn’t work, they opted to simply man him up after the break.
In the end, the junior forward posted a stat line that, according to ESPN, hasn’t been seen here in more than two decades. In 27 minutes, Williams finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. All were game-high totals and, while flirting with a triple-double, Williams became the first Purdue player with at least 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists since Brad Miller in 1998.
In short, he was a handful for the Buckeyes, whether it was Young or Key guarding him.
“I thought our post trapping clearly needs to get better,” Holtmann said. “He’s a third-year player, he’s a preseason all-league player, he’s been trapped plenty of times so he understands he’s good over his left shoulder passing out of it. I thought we were really good against him in the second half and challenged him better. Now, he made some tough shots and a couple of those you shake your head at. I thought in the second half we were much better individually on him.”
At times, Williams’ play bordered on the ridiculous. He threw a pass that was deflected high into the air and then fell through the rim for two points. Trapped under the rim after a spin move, Williams reached back and somehow tossed the ball into the air and through for two more points.
During the second half, Williams had 10 points, four rebounds and four assists.
“We (saw) that when we were bringing that double they were getting the drop-down too easy with our movement and having our hands up on the big,” Young said. “We came off it and just played it one-on-one. We were just going with the flow, trying to see what we needed.”
Ohio State’s last charge came when Key got as low as possible and made a play from his bottom.
Trailing 65-54, the Buckeyes got a pair of free throws from Walker and had the ball within nine points when Walker missed a shot, Key missed on the put-back and the ball was loose in the paint. There, Key was on his backside but managed to get a hand on the ball and tip it out toward the three-point line.
It extended the possession, and Duane Washington Jr. took advantage with a three-pointer that made it a 65-59 Purdue lead with 2:54 left as the Buckeyes called timeout.
“It was a big play,” Holtmann said. “We needed more of those throughout the course of the game.”
It wasn’t the spark the Buckeyes needed, though. From there, Ohio State would not make another field goal and score just one more point.
““They did a really good job of executing down the stretch,” forward Justice Sueing told The Dispatch. “We kind of knew what their game plan was going to be, and they made some good plays on their end. There’s still some stuff we need to work on, obviously, and I have no doubt we’re going to figure out soon, but it’s the first Big Ten game of a long season.”
Following the Washington three, this is what the Ohio State offense managed:
*Two Sueing misses, one of which was from three
*Two three-point misses from Washington
*A missed dunk attempt from Young
*A missed three-pointer from Justin Ahrens
*Turnovers by both Sueing and Walker
“We’ve just got to be more aware offensively,” Walker said of that stretch. “We were in the double bonus late in the game and didn’t get to the free-throw line enough and put pressure on the rim. We’ve got to be more aware of the game, putting pressure on the rim, getting kick-out threes. Defensively that helps us offensively as well when we get stops and get out in transition.”
“We’re not playing as fast as we need to off a turnover, a defensive rebound. We’ve got to get down the floor and put more pressure on the defense. We’ve got to play faster in those moments. We’ve got to be more effective at that. I think the physicality and playing with more force, that’s a bit of a learning experience for some of our guys that have not seen this kind of physicality before. We’ve got to help them get better at it.” – Holtmann
“I feel like everybody takes those same shots every game. We’re very confident in those. It happens. Some days you’re hot, some days you’re not. Every game is not going to be the same. It’s a matter of stepping up with confidence and believing every shot is going in. Unfortunately today, they didn’t fall.” – Walker, on Ohio State finishing 6 for 24 (25.0%) from three