Duane Washington, Buckeyes play for Kyle Young, beat Michigan to reach Big Ten title game

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes players celebrate the win against Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, March 13, 2021, during the men's Big Ten basketball tournament from Lucas Oil Stadium. Ohio State Buckeyes beat Michigan Wolverines 68-67.

INDIANAPOLIS – He wasn’t there, but Ohio State did a lot of Kyle Young-like things in Saturday’s Big Ten semifinal win against Michigan.

Friday, the Buckeye senior took an elbow to the head, came out of the game four possessions later and did not return. Saturday morning, he was officially ruled out with his second concussion in three weeks, and his timetable for a return to the court is uncertain.

In the latest of a series of revenge games for the Buckeyes, his teammates rose to the occasion without him but with him in mind. According to coach Chris Holtmann, the program’s social media staff put up a photograph of Young’s torn jersey from last season’s win at Michigan. The one where Zavier Simpson ripped Young’s jersey while battling for a ball late, resulting in the Buckeye hitting some game-changing free throws while wearing a No. 50 jersey.

“It was a constant reminder of a guy who really does care about this rivalry,” Holtmann said.

Without Young, Musa Jallow slid into the starting lineup. He teamed with Seth Towns, who tied a career high set Friday with 21 minutes to help fill some of the load. On the floor – like, down on the floor – senior CJ Walker helped make up for some of the missed hustle plays, twice going full-on Superman to dive and corral loose balls at the defensive end of the court. Offensively, eight different players combined to help Ohio State pull down 10 offensive rebounds.

“Everybody did their thing,” sophomore forward E.J. Liddell said. “Without Kyle, we had to pick up his energy. He brings a lot of extra effort. Staying together and fighting through adversity, they had their runs, we had ours.”

After the game, Holtmann said the Buckeyes FaceTimed with Young, whom he said is in good spirits. Holtmann didn’t specifically say Young would miss Sunday’s championship game, but he made it clear he won’t be playing. His status for the NCAA Tournament will be evaluated day by day, the coach said.

It’s no wonder he’s in good spirits. After Ohio State withstood a missed Mike Smith shot at the buzzer that would’ve won it for Michigan, the Buckeyes ran around the Lucas Oil Stadium court in jubilation. Duand Washington Jr. did a national television interview remotely, speaking into a microphone to a person he couldn’t see, as he stood in front of the Ohio State cheering section.

Nearby, Walker hovered, waiting for his teammate. As he did, Walker spotted injured Jimmy Sotos, who is not in the team bubble after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, in the crowd, and the two shared a moment together from a distance.

Once Washington was done, the junior and senior embraced before sprinting off the court, into the tunnel and onto the locker room for the celebration.

It was time to enjoy the moment and the chance to play for a title.

Duane Washington starts, finishes decisive run

Michigan had just pulled ahead, 43-42, on what was the fifth lead change of the game when Washington drilled a three-pointer to put Ohio State ahead, 45-43, with 11:20 to play. It was the sixth lead change, and there would be no others thanks to what was getting started for the Buckeyes.

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With that jumper, Washington started a stretch of 10 of 12 possessions on which Ohio State scored. In the process, that 43-42 deficit turned into a 67-56 lead, which would provide enough breathing room – just enough. It would end with a driving layup from Washington with 3:18 left, and from there the Buckeyes would add just a Justice Sueing free throw with 1:55 remaining as Michigan closed with an 11-1 run.

During that stretch from 11:20 until 3:18 remained, the Buckeyes were 9 for 13 (69.2%) from the floor. During the rest of the game, they were 15 for 44 (34.1%).

“I just think this group has real fight to them,” Holtmann said. “We use words like grit way too much. This team has that. It has that at a high level and I think that was evident in that stretch. I do think that was the difference in the game, that stretch.”

“At that point, I just knew I really want this,” Washington said. “Our guys really want this, and it’s now or never. Those legs started to get back under me and we were able to finish the game.”

There were points during the game, including much of the first half, where fatigued seemed to be catching up with the Buckeyes. They opened the game by missing 13 of their first 14 shots, and at the half Ohio State had scored only 26 points.

In the guts of their third game in as many days, Washington gave them a pep talk after Holtmann did so at the half.

“I told the guys that we’ve been doing this our whole lives, playing every day, playing multiple games in a day,” he said. “It’s like AAU, summertime, traveling, staying in hotels, playing games with your brothers. Coach gave us a motivational talk at halftime. We weren’t shooting the ball great. Missed some bunnies. We had to come out in the second and got more going.”

During that run, Washington had 11 of Ohio State’s 25 points. CJ Walker, Liddell and Washington each had three-point plays.

Tough moments for E.J. Liddell

Washington led the Buckeyes with 24 points, but Liddell wasn’t far behind at 18. Together, the two scored Ohio State’s first 22 points of the second half and split them evenly with 11 apiece.

That came despite a scary moment when Liddell, after soundly blocking a Brandon Johns Jr. basket off the backboard, went down clutching his right wrist as Johns held his head. Both would walk it off and return to the game, but for the moment Holtmann admitted to some fear.

“I was on alert with that,” the coach said. “He hit the ball first, but he might’ve followed through and hit the glass but it was a concern. He was in serious pain. We all understand how important he is, but more than that you don’t want any kid to miss any time. He’s loving playing. I honestly thought we might not have him for the rest of the half.

“I give Juwan (Howard) credit. I asked him about his kid that went down and he asked me about E.J. Fortunately both kids got back in the game.

Liddell said it wasn’t too big of a deal. He returned to the game moments later and promptly hit a three-pointer, helping get that second-half run going.

“People thought it was broke, but nah, I’m fine,” he said.

The final possessions would be more challenging. Ahead 69-58, Liddell flew in from the right wing and attempted to throw down a right-handed dunk that would’ve been the exclamation mark. Instead, he missed, and Michigan would hit two free throws at the other end to pull within 67-60.

A moment later, with Ohio State ahead 68-62 with 1:38 to play, it inbounded the ball to Liddell as the Wolverines were applying full-court pressure. Trying to move the ball up the right side of the court, Liddell was stripped by Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson, who scored to pull the Wolverines within 68-64.

The Buckeyes would bring it up again and put the ball in Liddell’s hands at the offensive end, but he lost control of it and when it went out of bounds with 1:01 to play Michigan would get a three-pointer from Chaundee Brown with 47.1 seconds left to make it a one-point game.

“I had a ton of mixed emotions,” Liddell said. “Missed a dunk, turned it over twice, but everybody had my back. They told me to keep my head up and keep it up high. We had to stay connected and go out there and try to win the game.”

The would despite one more turnover. With 28.7 seconds left, after a drive from the right wing, Walker stepped on the baseline, giving Michigan the ball back for the final possession.

“We ran an action, a rescreen action late, he stepped out of bounds there, but his pursuit of loose balls in the second half, holy cow,” Holtmann said. “Some of those loose balls he got, unbelievable. I’m going to think about that when I think about him a lot.”

By the numbers

*Ohio State has played 125 minutes of basketball in the last three days.

*Washington has played 108 of them. Liddell is second with 100 minutes, followed by Walker with 93 and Justice Sueing with 92.

*The Buckeyes have led for a combined 106:23.

*The Buckeyes have trailed for a total of 8:27, 7:42 of which was in the Michigan game. Minnesota never led Ohio State and Purdue led for 45 seconds.

*Ohio State has at least one win against every Big Ten team this season.

Meechie Johnson’s anniversary

He didn’t do much during the game, playing three first-half minutes and attempting just one shot. But March 13 was an emotional day for Meechie Johnson Jr. and one worth celebrating.

Two years to the day, Johnson underwent knee surgery that would cost him his entire junior season of high school basketball. After suffering the injury while playing for Garfield Heights, Ohio, Johnson’s next game outside of AAU basketball would be when he debuted for Ohio State in a January 9 road win against Rutgers.

Now, he’s going to play for a Big Ten championship.

Chris Holtmann's mom weighs in

After the game, Holtmann posted the following to his Twitter page.

Quotable

“Everybody’s gonna get some treatment tonight. A lot of treatment. Get a lot of sleep. We beat both of those teams before. I know what we can go out and do. We’ve won three games, but we’re trying to go out and win a fourth.” – Liddell

“Dadgonnit, do we make it interesting. I give them credit. They battled.” – Holtmann

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy