Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann talks end of season, Big Ten tournament on radio show

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann claps on the sideline during a game against  Northwestern at Value City Arena on Jan. 13.

The regular season is complete, and Ohio State will open the postseason Thursday as a No. 5 seed in the Big Ten tournament. Saturday, the Buckeyes took a five-point home loss to Illinois, sending them into the next part of the season on a four-game losing streak.

Monday, coach Chris Holtmann held his weekly radio show. If you couldn’t listen, here are the highlights.

Closing stretches

Ohio State missed its final 10 shots as Illinois closed the game on a 9-0 run to hand the Buckeyes the loss. Holtmann was asked about his team’s execution in those crucial moments in games and what’s been missing of late.

“It’s obviously an area that we’ve got to be able to perform a little bit better,” he said. “ We had two really clean open looks in the game the other day, Duane coming to his left and they went under a ball screen. He’s highly accurate from that and just didn’t make it. Kyle had a three in the corner. Those two, you look at and say those are good looks. There are other ones our decision-making has to get better.”

Holtmann revisited that Washington three later in the show as well, pointing out that Illinois went under on the screen to give Washington the high-percentage shot.

“If one of those threes (by Washington or Young) go down it’s probably a different story between Duane’s clean look going to his left. I’m not sure we can get a better shot than that one. The next one he did force it where he drove at Kofi. They’ve got to relax and make shots. I’m confident they’ll step up and do that.”

Senior day for CJ Walker, Kyle Young

Following the Illinois loss, Ohio State’s two senior players gave emotional speeches to the family members in attendance.

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“Two great kids,” Holtmann said. “Two unbelievable kids who represented our program and the university at the highest level really well. They have tremendous families. Guys that have won. They’re guys that are committed to the team and have sacrificed themselves, bodies and I think you saw how much they care with the emotion. It was even in some ways surprising to me. When you’re dealing with the immediate aftermath of a really hard-fought game, but the emotion of it, sure, that’s what makes college athletics fun, coaching guys that care at that level.”

Walker will professionalize after the season, but Young could potentially take advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA has extended to all players this season.

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“Kyle has obviously become a fan favorite because of the passion and energy he plays with,” Holtmann said. “An Ohio kid, his four years have flown by and he’s been the ultimate team guy. He’s going to have a decision to make after the year on whether or not he wants to try to put his body through another season or utilize his earning potential while he’s till healthy and professionalize. We’ll support him either way. We’d love to have him back.”

Justin Ahrens hits multiple threes

After a quiet stretch for the last four games, junior Justin Ahrens hit two threes in the loss.

“Justin, I thought he’s played consistently well,” Holtmann said. “Things people don’t see, the amount of space he creates on the floor, his commitment to some details defensively. They’re putting good athletes on him right now who are just not leaving his body. For him, even some of the actions that we run for him, they have really good athletes on him and he was able to get free a couple times but he’s got to continue to stay ready and be aggressive and help us at the other end.”

He was also the only player off the bench to see double-digit minutes.

“This late in the year it’s hard to play 11 guys,” Holtmann said. “We played nine the other day. There will be games we play nine or 10 or approach 11. Nine guys is probably outside of an injury, we’ll probably continue to look at that. Those guys understand and they’ve had a great attitude about staying ready. We’re going to need those guys who have consistently played.”

E.J. Liddell closing breakout season

As a sophomore, Liddell has emerged as the team’s leading scorer and a potential all-league candidate.

“He’s just played with so much confidence offensively, from the early part of the year, since Notre Dame,” Holtmann said. “He’s played against teams that have often played a big guy on him, which can be a mismatch. Often times it’s been in our advantage. Sometimes we’ve struggled with big guys, but more times than not he’s gained an advantage there. Teams have started to play him a little different with more mobile forwards in this closing stretch. He’s just played with so much confidence.”

The key for Liddell’s continued growth will be at the other end of the court.

“What we’ve really tried to stress is his offense will always be there because he’s so gifted,” Holtmann said. “We’ve tried to focus is we need more consistent effort on the defensive end in ball screen situations and just across the board. That’s what we’ve been trying to preach on a day to day basis with him.

“He’s one of those kids that can roll out of bed and score. He’s just that gifted. He’s got to continue to grow in other areas for his overall development as a player and for us to be the best we can be.”

Preparing for COVID protocols in Indianapolis

Ohio State could be preparing for a lengthy stay in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes will play Thursday in their first Big Ten tournament game and, if they should keep winning, remain there until their NCAA Tournament time ends.

For now, their team protocols won’t change much in the league tournament.

“The Big Ten tournament will be fairly similar to what we’ve been doing in this league schedule for seemingly six months,” Holtmann said. “That won’t change much. Once you get to the NCAA Tournament there are some protocols that are different and more extensive and that process is already beginning. Today I had the daily test we have in the morning and myself and our players are following it up with PCR tests and make definitely sure no one has COVID today. That’s part of the process we’re all going through right now in terms of preparation for next week.”

The Buckeyes have been advised to stay in Indianapolis whenever their time in the Big Ten tournament comes to a close, but Holtmann has not definitively committed to that.

“It’s certainly possible,” he said. “It really depends on, they’ve advised us to stay there. “It does depend on how our game goes Thursday and beyond whether or not we’d return and go through the normal testing here (in Columbus) versus stay. Hopefully we’ll stay because that means we’re winning, and that will create a longer stay in Indianapolis. We might have to change hotels.”

Spirits high despite losing streak

Ohio State has dropped to No. 9 in the Associated Press top 25 thanks to its four-game losing streak, but Holtmann said morale remains high in practice.

“I’m pleased with our guys’ mindset and focus and their collective spirit has been really good,” he said. “You look how we played here, really three of those four were really tough games and stretches where we played really good basketball. You’re trying to focus on that as much as the wins and losses to some degree.

“I don’t for one second question our guys’ collective enthusiasm, spirit, energy right now. It is in a great place. I’ve not looked at seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Obviously our body of work speaks for itself. We’ve put ourselves in great position. We’ve got to do a few things better here.”

Malaki Branham, Kalen Etzler joining Buckeyes next year

Holtmann was asked for a status update on the two freshmen signed for next year: Malaki Branham and Kalen Etzler.

“Many of them know about Malaki,” Holtmann said. “He’s had an incredible senior season. He’s a top 30 player overall in the country. He’s just a tremendous kid. He was such an important recruit for us and I think he’s going to have an immediate impact on our team. He’s got a real chance to be Mr. Basketball.

“Kalen Etzler, Buckeye fans know the Etzler name. He’s got good length and size and versatility. He’s going to need some time to adjust physically to our game, but really excited about his long-term potential. Those two, with Zed (Key) and Gene (Brown) and Meechie (Johnson), we’re really excited about that.”