Now playing UCLA, Ohio State basketball coach Chris Holtmann rolling with changes

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann watches the game against Illinois State on Nov. 25.

In a season of firsts, a video conference while traveling on a bus was another one for Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann.

Long before the start to the season, the Buckeyes learned that they would play North Carolina in the annual CBS Sports Classic. It was late October when they learned the game would take place in Cleveland, and all seemed set until this week.

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Wednesday morning, as Ohio State’s program was being tested for COVID-19 at Purdue, Holtmann and North Carolina coach Roy Williams had a 15-minute phone call that resulted in the opponents for this year’s matchup being switched. Now, the Buckeyes will face UCLA in the second game of a double-header that will open with Kentucky facing North Carolina.

Although Holtmann said he wasn’t the one who raised the issue, the new opponent brings together teams from leagues in the Big Ten and Pac-12 that feature the same levels of COVID testing.

“We had gotten contacted the night before the Purdue game that there was some conflict between, I guess between Kentucky and UCLA on maybe some testing protocols,” Holtmann said Friday afternoon as he rode one of two buses to Cleveland. “(Roy and I) talked for about 15 minutes and both agreed to be OK with it if it was going to keep the event intact.”

The Bruins will be eight days removed from a home win against Marquette, while the Buckeyes had a mandated day off from practice Thursday after their 67-60 loss at Purdue the night before.

It’s not clear whether any Ohio State players on the injury list could be available for the game. Sophomore center Ibrahima Diallo, who suffered a concussion during last Sunday’s win against Cleveland State, is out.

Sophomore forward E.J. Liddell, who has missed the past two games due to mononucleosis, was scheduled to be evaluated after Friday’s practice in Cleveland and had not been ruled out for the game.

Graduate transfer Seth Towns, who has yet to make his debut, is continuing to progress but doesn’t have a definitive return date after undergoing knee surgery in January.

“I can’t tell you an exact timeline,” Holtmann said. “I think it could be certainly in a month or it could be in a couple days. It’s just, we’re taking it game by game with how he feels after certain practices.”

Finally, senior forward/center Kyle Young was seen wearing a walking boot as he left Mackey Arena on Wednesday, but Holtmann said that’s a precaution Young will likely take throughout the season to protect his lower right left after a series of injuries during the last two seasons.

“He’s had some ankle soreness,” Holtmann said. “He is sore at times in his lower legs after games, but that boot is just to monitor that.”

Recent addition Meechie Johnson Jr. is accompanying the team to the game, which will be played near his hometown of Garfield Heights. He won’t play, though, as he continues to acclimate to the program after graduating early from high school and joining Ohio State last Saturday.

The Buckeyes will have a simplified game plan, Holtmann said, because of the quick turnaround, with the focus more on what Ohio State can do rather than trying to take away what UCLA can do.

“In some ways, it frees guys up,” he said.


Ohio State vs. UCLA

When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: Ch. 10

Radio: WBNS-FM (joined in progress) and AM (97.1/1460)