Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann talks Duane Washington, Justin Ahrens and more on radio show

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann claps on the sideline during the second half of Wednesday's NCAA Division I basketball game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Value City Arena in Columbus, Oh., on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. Ohio State won the game 81-71.

Two days after No. 4 Ohio State won its sixth in a row by beating Indiana, 78-59, at Value City Arena, coach Chris Holtmann hosted his weekly radio show Monday.

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

Zed Key: more than “finger guns”

Freshman center Zed Key had five offensive rebounds in the Indiana win, and Holtmann said his development has been important for this team.

“In this league when there are so many big guys, he’s so valuable for our team because it allows you to pull Kyle off some of the banging that goes on,” Holtmann said. “I think everybody who’s watched us knows, beyond the finger-pointing or whatever you call it, his impact has been significant. A challenge for a big guy is figuring out angles defensively and offensively but doing your work early. I think he’s gotten better at that. His length helps him. He’s only 6-8 but his frame and length allow him to play much bigger than that.”

There’s still work to be done for Key.

“Sometimes he gets in foul trouble and the other day he had too many turnovers, but he provides a physical presence and activity,” Holtmann said. “As the years go on here, he’s going to continue to grow and improve and add an offensive repertoire to his game that I think he’s only scratching the surface on.”

Duane Washington shows off efficient floor game

Junior guard Duane Washington Jr. took only eight shots in the Indiana win but played an overall effective floor game.

“He’s become a better player,” Holtmann said. “He was guarding their best offensive player, Armaan Franklin. Thought he did a good job on him. That’s a big, important part of being a complete player. He fed the post. It’s important. It shows guys understanding making the right play, and I thought he was aggressive and made some big shots when we needed him to.

“Duane had a really efficient day the other day. He played a good overall floor game, outside of a turnover or two. We were really good offensively last year, but not at this level. “

Getting some rest before Penn State

Ohio State will have five days in between games before traveling to play the Nittany Lions.

“Today, we’re doing skill workouts with guys but we won’t go for a two-hour practice,” Holtmann said. “(Tuesday), we’ll go through multiple film sessions and hopefully a good, physical practice, but we’ll be limited there with what certain guys can do. It may not be ideal, but what’s ideal is keeping our team healthy and hopefully fresh for the remainder of the season.”

Justice Sueing responds

After going scoreless at Maryland, Justice Sueing posted his fourth double-double of the season in the win against the Hoosiers.

“Justice responded from a tough game the other day,” Holtmann said. “Not scoring, for kids that’s always a hard thing. I think he came back ready to work. Even though we’re playing him at the point some, at 6-7, 220 pounds, he’s got to be able to impact the game on the glass at both ends. When he does that, he’s a really gifted player in some of the things he can do. E.J. (Liddell) is playing in a great rhythm. You knew he’d come back and respond. The kind of kid both those players are, you knew they’d come back and respond.”

Sueing also hit a three-pointer in the win on his lone attempt.

“We talked to him a lot about reading close-outs,” Holtmann said. “It’s a really important part for any level of basketball. Some teams will close out a little bit longer to him. He’s got to read those situations and read the game. He’s got good touch. He’s not defined by his three-point shooting. He can make them. He’s got to be intentional about searching and probing the paint because he’s too gifted not to do that.”

CJ Walker likely to keep coming off the bench

Since his return from a hand injury, senior guard CJ Walker has played starters’ minutes while coming off the bench for the Buckeyes. That, as well as a deep rotation, is likely to remain the case going forward.

“He’ll start on senior day, but I think for us, he’s in a really good rhythm right now and his minutes are about the same (as if he was starting),” Holtmann said. “I think for him, as long as he stays in that rhythm than I could see us continuing that for sure. It’s always game-to-game and moment-to-moment. Our other guys, we are playing a lot of guys right now. As long as guys continue to embrace what’s being asked of them and play their role at a high level, want to continue to play a large number of guys.”

Justin Ahrens creating his own gravity

He only hit one three in the win against the Hoosiers, but Justin Ahrens earned plenty of praise from Holtmann for his overall impact on the game.

Buckeyes basketball:From one shooter to another, Jon Diebler enjoying what Justin Ahrens is doing for Buckeyes

“We call that gravity,” he said. “When he’s out on the floor, he has a gravitational pull from the defense. That opens up things for other people and it’s opened up driving lines for Justice and post space for E.J. and Kyle and Zed and opens up driving lanes for Duane and CJ. There’s no question that he understands that.

“He’s got to continue to embrace that. He’s got to stay aggressive. If teams are going to hug him and in essence face-guard him then he’s got to be a screener and we’ve got to find ways to get him open but he’s got to stay confident and aggressive and allow those other guys opportunities with the space he creates.”

CJ Walker, others working back from injuries

Holtmann gave an overall status report on a number of Buckeyes dealing with various injuries.

Ohio State men's basketball:CJ Walker enjoying down time to be a dad

“I’ve kind of stopped asking (Walker) because he’s in a good rhythm,” he said. “It won’t fully heal until he can take 4-5 weeks off after the season. Kyle Young’s in a similar place where we’re monitoring his legs. Zed’s ankle continues to get better from his ankle sprain. Ibrahima is getting better with his knee. Seth is just kind of day-to-day. He’s done a great job managing it throughout the season.”

Two changes

If he was in charge of college basketball, Holtmann said he would make two changes to improve the flow of the game.

“I’m probably in a small camp of coaches who would say I would take one less timeout if it allowed the game to flow better,” he said. “If you said what are two areas you’d look to improve the flow of our game, I would limit at a really high level the number of video reviews by officials as much as possible. Make it once or twice a game or in the last couple minutes. There is human error in everything we do, but the game has to flow a little bit better. I would probably pull one of our timeouts. That probably sounds crazy from us coaches who are control freaks.”

Michigan showdown looming

After Thursday’s game at Penn State, the Buckeyes will host No. 3 Michigan in a Sunday showdown at Value City Arena. The Wolverines returned after a 23-day layoff due to COVID concerns and won at Wisconsin.

“I did have a chance to watch them a little bit,” Holtmann said. “Had a rare day off. Two really good teams. I think what you’ve seen is what we’ve seen all year is they are an elite team. They are certainly a team that can win the whole thing. Before then, we’ve got a big-time challenge on Thursday. It was an impressive Big Ten game for sure.”

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