Chris Holtmann talks Duane Washington, Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell and offseason plan on show

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes Head Coach Chris Holtmann signals his team his team during the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 19, 2021, at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.

Three days removed from a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Oral Roberts, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann hosted his final weekly radio of the season.

Holtmann joined the show late due to a meeting, according to hosts Paul Keels and Ron Stokes. Once he joined, here’s a recap of the highlights.

Threatening messages to E.J. Liddell ‘startling, vile’

In the aftermath of the loss to Oral Roberts, Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell posted a number of hateful and threatening messages he had received on social media.

“The thing that I’ve been overwhelmingly grateful for, and I know E.J. is as well and all of our players are, is their reaction when they saw those startling and vile comments that were made,” Holtmann said. “He recognizes, as will our team in time, that while fans were disappointed, and I don’t really think necessarily some of these comments were from fans, while he was really disappointed there’s also an appreciation and understanding for the really, really special moments that this team provided for people in the middle of a pandemic.”

Holtmann said this isn’t an isolated incident, referencing other players receiving similar messages throughout the year. When players get to Ohio State, Holtmann said, they have multiple conversations about properly using social media and dealing with the negativity. Those include watching a Netflix documentary and looking at LeBron James’ example.

“As much as anything you try to protect your players from it,” Holtmann said. “These comments, they deserve to be prosecuted, the ones with E.J. and some of the ones with our other players that have happened during the season. Some of it’s probably coming from some people who had an investment in the game. With an increase in that type of wagering in college basketball, there has been an increase in vitriol at college athletes at all levels.”

Kyle Young and others have decisions to make

This and next week will be filled with individual meetings with players recapping the season and also gauging what the next steps could look like.

NCAA Tournament:Kyle Young's absence felt strongly Ohio State in March Madness loss to Oral Roberts

“You’re talking to your guys and trying to have honest conversations about the future and role and also taking time to reflect on the individual season they had,” Holtmann said. “You have two all-conference players, guys who stepped into major new roles this year and did it really successfully. That’s a big part of our job right now is these next six weeks.”

That includes getting a feel for who might transfer, who will stay and who will seek feedback on their NBA potential. Senior Kyle Young, too, has a decision to make about whether he returns for an extra year.

“We’ve got to have conversations with which guys might want to put their name in and go through the NBA process and we completely support those guys that want to do that and feel it’s reasonable to do that,” Holtmann said. “In some cases, guys figuring out, ‘Can I play the role I hope to play? What do I have to do to play that role?

“Those are really important things. Kyle’s got an important decision and we’re going to completely support him either way. My guess is we’ll know that here in the next 4-6 weeks.”

Within the next two months, Holtmann said, the coaching staff hopes to have the roster mostly solidified in order to address any potential additions.

Duane Washington down after loss

Junior guard Duane Washington Jr. missed the potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation against Oral Roberts and the game-tying shot at the end of overtime to cap a tough shooting game.

Ohio State men's basketball:Always emotional, Duane Washington stars, enjoys thrilling overtime win against Purdue

“Duane was as emotional as any player as I’ve coached in the locker room after,” Holtmann said. “Just despondent. He cares at such a high level. It’s very possible he’s going to consider putting his name in, but he loves being at Ohio State. He loves being a college basketball player. This group had a special bond. We’ve got to own the fact that we came up short on Friday, first and foremost me, but they care at a really ridiculously high level.”

Lessons learned from aftermath of Big Ten tournament run

After playing four games in four days and falling to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament title game, Holtmann said the turnaround from that Sunday afternoon game to a Friday NCAA Tournament game proved to be an unexpected challenge.

“The deeper you advance in the Big Ten tournament, what I learned this year is that there are real challenges in terms of your physical preparation and your readiness for the NCAA Tournament,” Holtmann said. “We went from an emotional locker room to immediately watching the selection show to quarantining 24 hours to testing three times to trying to really feel for the physical state of our players. That was unique.”

Holtmann pointed out that he’s historically not had much success in conference tournaments, making this a unique challenge at this point in his career.

“I think it was a learning experience for me,” he said. “What we have to look at is, is there something we could’ve done better to get our guys (ready)? What I sensed a little bit is there was some physical and emotional fatigue.”

Defense struggles in absence of Kyle Young

Ohio State played Oral Roberts without senior Kyle Young as he dealt with a concussion, and his absence was particularly felt against a Golden Eagles team that routinely played with five players on the perimeter.

“It’s a completely different style that you’re facing,” Holtmann said. “We’ve seen some teams in the Big Ten and we’ve adjusted accordingly and played teams that might have a five-out system, but there are not as many teams that do that. That’s where you really do need versatility across your front line and that’s where I do think Kyle had such an important part of our defensive attack in those situations.

“We saw it three years ago when we played South Dakota State and they had Mike Daum. In that game we weren’t able to play our bigs. We played Andre Wesson and primarily Keita as your bigs because that gave us the best chance to defend that system.”

Malaki Branham wins state title

Incoming freshman Malaki Branham won a state championship for Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, scoring 37 points in Sunday night’s win.

“We’re so, so excited about him,” Holtmann said. “What an outstanding addition he’s going to be. He was such an important recruit for us and we can’t wait to get him here. His senior season validated who he is both as a player and as a person.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy