Ohio State's Chris Holtmann talks CJ Walker, Big Ten tournament plans and more on radio show

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann talks to guard Duane Washington Jr. (4) and forward Justice Sueing (14) during the second half of the men's basketball game at Value City Arena in Columbus on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Purdue won 67-65.

Two days after a 74-62 win at Wisconsin, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann hosted his weekly radio show Monday.

In case you couldn’t listen, here are the highlights.

CJ Walker makes his return

After missing four games with torn ligaments in his right hand, senior guard CJ Walker returned to the rotation but not the starting lineup for the Wisconsin game.

“Anytime you’re bringing a player back from injury, one that was a big part of your rotation, it’s a challenge,” Holtmann said. “It’s even more of a challenge when it’s a point guard. He’s used to having the ball in his hands and guys are used to seeing him with the ball in his hands. What CJ had to understand was we needed him back. We wanted him back.

“He provided a great lift, but he also had to understand that we were playing well in certain areas and he had to make sure that coming back he didn’t disrupt that. The kind of person he is and player he is, I felt comfortable that would be the case.”

Ohio State is ranked fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency while dealing with multiple injuries.

“I expected that we would be good offensively this year,” Holtmann said. “I didn’t expect the kind of efficiency we’ve seen to this point. To have a top-5 offense, scoring is one thing but it really comes down to efficiency on both ends. Offensively we were playing so well it was let’s figure out how to bring him back.”

Walker isn’t out of the woods when it comes to his hand, though.

Ohio State men's basketball:BuckeyeXtra Basketball podcast | Discussing the 74-62 victory over Wisconsin, player CJ Walker

“More than anything you’re happy for him to know it’s feeling better,” Holtmann said. “Now if it gets hit again, we’ll have to see what his capacity is for that. I was pleased that he was able to play well and finish the game out and play in a rhythm despite being out for as long as he was.”

Jimmy Sotos remains out

Walker’s backup, Bucknell transfer Jimmy Sotos, has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury suffered in the first game without Walker.

“We’re not sure on Jimmy,” Holtmann said. “He’s going to be evaluated more this week and I would expect us to have something to be able to say. The severity of his injury we’re still taking a look at. It was significant. We’ll know more and be able to speak more to that hopefully this week or early next week.”

The Buckeyes were hoping to use this week for rest and recovery before hosting Michigan State on Sunday.

“We are a little bit banged up,” Holtmann said. “What that will do in terms of affecting what we’ll look like Wednesday, we were going to use this to heal up but probably like most teams we’re a little bit banged up. Nothing specific to mention until we have a couple more days to fully evaluate them.”

Big Ten tournament, schedule up for conversation

Monday morning, Holtmann said he was on a call with Big Ten coaches and the league office to discuss the new COVID strain that has shut Michigan down for two weeks. Among the topics of conversation: the Big Ten tournament.

“I was on a call with the Big Ten coaches and the league office this morning about the idea of a conference tournament and what that could look like,” Holtmann said. “My understanding is this new strain is highly contagious and a real concern for everybody.”

Holtmann said the Big Ten tournament being moved from Chicago is something being considered but he couldn’t divulge where it could be headed. Multiple national reports have mentioned Indianapolis as the likely site.

“The plan is to go ahead and try to play, but the location, we’ll see if it stays in Chicago or moves somewhere else,” he said.

The Big Ten has also started asking its schools about changing games as teams look to make up ones postponed due to the pandemic.

“The Big Ten has suggested here these last few weeks, can you change this game? Can you move this here? Would you be willing to play here?” Holtmann said. “They’ve tried to accommodate everybody about prep time. Those suggestions I don’t think will be suggestions much longer. It’s like when I ask my daughter and suggest she empties the dishwasher, she takes it as a suggestion but if it doesn’t get done it doesn’t turn into a suggestion any more. I think the Big Ten is basically going to say you’re playing on this date at this time because they’re trying to accommodate as many games as possible.”

Look for some one-day prep games as the schedule changes, Holtmann said.

E.J. Liddell, Duane Washington Jr. go-to guys

With Kaleb and Andre Wesson gone, the identity of this year’s go-to scorer or scorers was an open question to start the season. Washington and Liddell are starting to answer that.

“Going into the season we all were wondering, ‘OK, Kaleb’s gone, Andre’s gone, they do have Duane. EJ had a good freshman year, but who’s going to step into that role?’ That’s something we were all looking at early in the season. Unfortunately we had a little bit of some injury or illness issue, but what we’ve come to see here is E.J. and Duane are two young men that we’ll continue to play through late quite a bit, and other guys as well. Those are two guys we’ll continue to play through late in certain critical situations. Those guys have been able to have really good (years). They’ve really improved.”

Seth Towns still progressing

Harvard graduate transfer Seth Towns had 10 points off the bench in the Wisconsin win as he continues to build back to full health.

“He’s giving us a great lift offensively,” Holtmann said. “He’s still learning and growing defensively. He’s not there yet. Seth’s not always able to practice, so that has limited his ability to grow in some of the areas we need him to continue to grow in. he’s got a natural, wonderful gift to score the ball and make shots.”

Those dark-colored alternate jerseys

The Buckeyes busted out some new uniforms for the Wisconsin game, and while their players loved them, Holtmann said he wasn’t too focused on how they would look for the game.

“Full disclosure here: I didn’t even remember that we had those jerseys,” Holtmann said. “I didn’t even know that we were wearing them until I walked into the locker room and saw our guys with them on. This was really driven by people who aren’t preparing to try to beat Wisconsin. In some ways I said, listen, let’s put ‘em on against an opponent where it would maybe elevate our guys in a game they’re not quite as ready for. They made the decision to do it at Wisconsin.

“I try to stay out of that stuff. Gene Smith allowed it. It’s apparently not necessarily considered a black jersey, it’s a darker gray. Regardless, I’m glad we won and i think they were for the most part well-received. I’m glad people enjoyed them.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy