Fully vaccinated, Ohio State heads into short break with work to be done
Thursday marked the end of what has been the longest continual practice stretch of the preseason for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.
With the university entering its fall break, the Buckeyes held their fourth practice in as many days, the most consecutive days of practice since the preseason officially began two weeks ago. With reporters on hand for the final 30 minutes, a shortened lineup closed things out when E.J. Liddell hit a three-pointer from the left wing on an assist from Malaki Branham to break a tie with 31.0 seconds left and give his Scarlet team a 70-65 win.
It was the 11th practice of the preseason for the Buckeyes, who will open with an exhibition game against Indianapolis on November 1 before officially beginning the season eight days later against Akron at Value City Arena.
“It’s been a fun group to work with,” coach Chris Holtmann said at the conclusion of practice. “We have a lot of things to figure out. We have a really challenging early schedule. We’ve got these next couple weeks to figure out what our rotation’s gonna look like.
“Overriding, this team is competing really hard. I like our group’s leadership. We’ve got to figure out some things on our perimeter and ultimately what our rotation is going to look like, but I really think this will be a year where the rotation is pretty fluid.”
Three players were absent from game action. Sixth-year graduate forward Seth Towns continues to recover from back surgery he underwent last month and was not present, and fifth-year forward/center Kyle Young was also not present. Fourth-year wing Justin Ahrens was in uniform but spent the portion of open practice watching from the sideline.
“Kyle and Justin, they’re just a little bit banged up right now,” Holtmann said. “I don’t think either one’s a long-term injury by any stretch. We’ve given them a couple days to recover. I don’t want to get specific, but I don’t see it as a long-term thing.”
Without them, second-year guard Meechie Johnson dealt with full-court ball pressure from fifth-year Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler. In the paint, second-year center Zed Key spun and put up a left-handed hook shot over sixth-year Indiana transfer center Joey Brunk only to have it rim out. At the other end, Brunk got revenge by nabbing an offensive rebound and finishing over his younger counterpart.
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Liddell was a constant presence for his team, which also included Branham, Brunk, Wheeler and Cedric Russell. A lock to play at power forward this season, Liddell flashed his shooting touch as well as his ability to drive. On one possession, he gave a head-fake from the top of the circle, put the ball on the floor, drove the basket and finished through contact at the rim.
On the Gray team, second-year guard Gene Brown III, too, showed an ability to get to the line while playing alongside fifth-year forward/guard Justice Sueing. Holtmann said Sueing will reprise his role as an occasional ball handler this season and that he’s a candidate to make more plays in game-deciding situations this season in the wake of Duane Washington Jr.’s departure for the NBA. Sueing, Johnson, Brown, Key and Jimmy Sotos comprised the Gray team.
As Holtmann said, the rotation as well as projected roles remain fluid at this point of the season.
Holtmann said the Buckeyes are 100% vaccinated against COVID-19, although that’s a situation the medical staff has handled, he said.
“I stay away from those conversations,” Holtmann said. “I’m really led by our medical staff and training staff. That’s their conversation. We’ve certainly had the whole gamut of some guys being maybe concerned or more questions and then other guys being open to it, but we’re 100% vaccinated.”
The Buckeyes will return to practice Monday, when they’ll continue to work on installing more parts of their system. It’s a lengthy list, and one Holtmann said still has a lot of work that needs done.
“We’ve got a lot more of install in general,” Holtmann said. “A lot more, like most coaches I have a practice checklist that I try to follow. We have to continue to build a conditioning base, and we need to play so that we can learn about our team as much as possible. That’s going to be a part of this year. Did I overschedule here early with some of these challenging games? We’ll see, with a newer backcourt. We’ll have to figure some things out a little bit on the fly.”