On radio show, OSU's Chris Holtmann describes Jimmy Sotos as 'game-time decision'

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes guard Jimmy Sotos (1) is congratulated by Ohio State Buckeyes guard Musa Jallow (2) after scoring during the second half of Sunday's NCAA Division I basketball game against the Cleveland State Vikings at Value City Arena in Columbus, Oh. on December 13, 2020. Ohio State won the game 67-61.

Two days after a 79-68 win at No. 15 Rutgers, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann hosted his weekly radio show Monday.

In case you missed it, here are the highlights:

More:'Till death do them part, Chris Holtmann and Duane Washington's bond key for Ohio State

Jimmy Sotos' status

Senior guard Jimmy Sotos, who suffered a right shoulder injury in the final minutes of the win, will be a game-time decision for Wednesday’s home game against Northwestern.

“He’s still being evaluated right now,” Holtmann said. “He’ll be a game-time decision, so we’ll see how he is as he progresses here in the next couple of days. We’ll know more after he continues to get evaluated, but he’ll be a game-time decision.”

Sotos started in place of fifth-year senior CJ Walker, who is out with torn ligaments in his right hand. It was his most impactful game of the season, albeit one shortened by injury.

“I thought he was focused,” Holtmann said of Sotos. “I thought he played confidently. He can really shoot the ball and we needed that. When you lose a guy as valuable as CJ Walker has been for us, I think you’re looking for stability at that position. You’re looking for a guy that can run your team. The ball’s in Duane (Washington)’s hands a lot but you’re looking for a guy that can move the ball at that position. He connected our defense too. It was great to see Jimmy’s hard work and patience pay off. He really was critical in getting us off to a great start and also played well throughout the guts of the game.”

CJ Walker still out

*Walker will miss the game against the Wildcats, which has the Buckeyes down potentially three point guards pending Sotos’ situation.

“We’ve not had this number of injuries since I’ve been a head coach,” Holtmann said. “Guys step up like they did on Saturday and now when you have potentially another one it opens up chan es for guys to move around and play different positions. That’s the case for Duane (and) a couple other guys. We’re going to be without CJ and depending on Jimmy’s situation.”

Duane Washington's challenges

Holtmann said after the win that he loves coaching Washington but that coaching him will send him “to an early death” because he will score 17 points but also have four turnovers in the final eight minutes.

“He’s a bucket-getter,” Holtmann said. “It’s what he’s born to do. I think the challenge for him has been when you’re attacking defenses that are elite, which much of the Big Ten is, you have to make good decisions with the ball. He’s growing in that area, but he’s been inconsistent in it, both in his shot selection and decision making. He’s a gifted offensive player. The constant challenge with Duane is be a complete player. Be able to handle the ball and make the right basketball plays and reads. He’s got to make the right pass and see things a little more. When he does that well, he’s a really good player.”

Washington’s role could continue to evolve as the Buckeyes mix and match without Walker and possibly without Sotos.

“It’s a fine line for guys like Duane who are natural-born scorers and you’re asking them to run a team and get other guys involved,” Holtmann said. “It’s really a unique situation with our point guard position. In the summer, we had Abel Porter who we thought was going to play as much as 20 minutes per game. He has a really unfortunate heart condition. Now you have CJ Walker, who was leading us in minutes, go down, and then on top of that you’ve got a situation with Jimmy that is still being evaluated. You have to move some guys over to that position.”

Ohio State out-rebounded Rutgers 43-29

“It’s one of the things we’ve done consistently well,” Holtmann said. “Our rebounding collectively has been good this year. In some games it’s been excellent. Our defensive rebounding can continue to get better. We’ve got good rebounders and I think we’re pursuing the ball better.”

Meechie Johnson's debut

Freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. made his Ohio State debut in part due to Walker’s absence, and he could be in line for more minutes going forward despite only entering his second week of practice. They’ll work with him through a lot of film work, similar to the process Harvard graduate transfer Seth Towns is going through.

“We’re still trying to bring Seth along and do it through film evaluation,” Holtmann said. “That’s an adjustment for guys. we probably watch more film than at other places. The amount of film we’re trying to put in front of guys where guys can grow and get better, it’s really important for guys like Seth and Meechie who have been out for a period of time and now we’re asking them to step into the heart of league play and play important roles.

“With Meechie, it’s amazing. I can’t overstate it enough, to be able to not get here until mid-December and now be stepping into Big Ten play is a lot to ask of a young man but he’s confident. Obviously the more he plays and the more comfortable he gets, the better he’ll be, but I thought he did some really good things on both ends the other day.”

Meechie Johnson's role will continue to grow

“He’s such a confident kid in his abilities and how he can be,” Holtmann said. “I think he believes. He wanted to do this. He’s been very attentive in practice. I’m sure he was nervous. I know he was. As much as anything, your head spins as a new player and a freshman the entire year. For him, we’ll try to keep it really simple for him so he can play off of instincts and aggressiveness.”

More:BuckeyeXtra Basketball podcast | Penn State game was canceled, CJ Walker is out with hand injury, looking ahead to Rutgers

Kyle Young's improvement

Senior Kyle Young had 13 points, five rebounds and no turnovers in 30 minutes.

“One of the things I think we’ve seen with him is his game has grown and continued to get better,” Holtmann said. “We’ve seen him be able to score it in the post here a little bit more. Knock on wood he does not turn the ball over much. He doesn’t waste a lot of possessions out there. He doesn’t do stuff that puts himself in difficult positions. When he’s bringing energy to your team and playing with that typical Kyle Young energy, he’s a really good player. There’s a reason our fans love him. He plays for Ohio State and he does that all the time.”

He also hit a three-pointer.

“There was nobody within 5-8 feet of him,” Holtmann said. “The time-and-space threes where he has time to get his feet set, he’s very, very accurate. It’s never something I think he’s going to shoot six a game, but the ones like there where he’s wide open in a scramble situation, it was great to see it go down.”

But there's more Kyle Young can do

Holtmann is still asking Young to be more vocal, particularly in Walker’s absence.

“He’s so critical because of the loose balls, the extra possessions, the extra rebounds, the pursuit of the ball,” he said of Young. “I’m still on him about talking more and connecting more defensively because we need that from him, particularly with CJ out right now. CJ’s our best talker on the floor."

On a tight season series with Northwestern

The Buckeyes close the season series with Northwestern after having just played December 26.

“Like every team this year, every team is going to go through winning streaks and losing streaks,” Holtmann said. “That’s just the reality. They’ve lost a couple here, but they’ve had an entire week to prepare for us. They’re a bona fide NCAA Tournament team. They’ve got a lot of weapons, a lot of scoring, good length across the board.”

E.J. Liddell's hard work paying off

Holtmann said sophomore E.J. Liddell is seeing the benefit of a strong summer.

“He really has grown,” he said. “He had a really good summer. Put in a lot of work. It’s that time in the summer where you’re grinding it out and no one’s watching that guys really get better. His ceiling is high. I think he’s still adjusting to the increase in the three-point line. His range right now is really good in the mid-range and at times can step beyond the three. The biggest thing for E.J. has always been getting him to consistently play with the motor and as hard as we need him to, because when he does that, man, he’s such a gifted player.”

Justice Sueing had 10 rebounds and had nine free-throw attempts at Rutgers

“Justice is a young man that if everybody to know him would really feel good about who he is as a young man,” Holtmann said. “We had testing this morning, I look at him and he’s over there reading a motivational book just studying, learning how to get better. He’s a really driven young man. Tremendous kid and wants to get better and wants to learn from those moments where he’s in a new league.

“We’re going to need him to be good for us with the number of injuries that we have and the ball-handling issues we have with those injuries. He’s going to have an important role.”

It’s unclear if or when the postponed game against Penn State might be rescheduled

“It’s unique,” Holtmann said of the challenge of rescheduling college basketball games. “You’re staying in constant contact with league office. The onus is really on them to communicate with us and the league office when those things can be cleared up. They want to reschedule the game, as do we. They have a couple other cancelations.”

Nod to the Browns

Before discussing that game, Holtmann took a detour to laud the Cleveland Browns for their win against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night in the NFL playoffs.

“First of all, Cleveland’s on fire right now,” he said. “How about that game last night? What a fun night for Cleveland. What a fun night for the city, for the state, to be able to watch that after so long. Incredible experience. A lot of fun and momentum going into tonight’s game here. I just thought Cleveland was such a hungry, loose team last night. It was fun to watch. So much of competing in today’s pandemic environment is who’s the hungrier, more motivated team?”

And a nod to the football Buckeyes, too

The Ohio State football team plays Alabama for the national championship Monday night, and Holtmann said he’ll be watching.

“We would normally love to have some people over to watch the Buckeyes,” he said. “I didn’t watch us a whole lot when I was at other schools, but now that we’ve been firmly entrenched here, my wife is an avid football fan. Sometimes she’s so loud I’ve got to watch the game in another room. She loves Nina Day. As a wife, she feels for Nina in this as much as anything and knows the experience she’s going through.

“I think it’s going to be an incredible game tonight. I don’t know anything about football. I played one year of football and go the sparkplug award when I was 11. They usually give that to the least talented player. I do know that I love this group, this football team and anticipate a great game. They’ll be incredibly well-prepared. They’ve got elite talent. I think it’s gonna be a good night.”

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@AdamJardy