Ohio State's Chris Holtmann updates Meechie Johnson, Justice Sueing on weekly radio show

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann gestures to players during the first half of the Ohio State vs. Penn State men's basketball game Sunday, January 16, 2022 at the Value City Arena in the Schottenstein Center.

What was scheduled to be a busy week for the Ohio State men’s basketball program instead has turned into a second lengthy layoff of the season.

After Tuesday night’s win against IUPUI, a game scheduled as a replacement for the three the Buckeyes lost during a COVID-19 pause that lasted 22 days in December, Ohio State was scheduled to host Nebraska on Saturday leading into this Thursday’s game at Minnesota.

Instead, the Buckeyes are now at about the midpoint of what will be a nine-day layoff in between games after positive COVID tests within the Cornhusker program resulted in the postponement of Saturday’s game at Value City Arena.

With all of that as a backdrop, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann held his weekly radio show, which began at the same time as the Associated Press Top 25 poll that saw the Buckeyes climb three spots to No. 16.

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

Meechie Johnson close to returning from injury

Ohio State second-year guard Meechie Johnson Jr. has missed three games with a facial injury suffered during a Jan. 11 practice. Holtmann said Johnson suffered a facial fracture and concussion but that he’s getting closer to returning to action.

“I think contact is the next step for him,” he said. “We’ll get the final word today on what he’s able to do. He is going to wear a mask. He looks like a villain, which I like it. It gives him a nastiness to him. It’s an interesting thing he’s got to wear. I think it affects his breathing as much as anything, but we haven’t had a chance to play enough to see how it’s going to affect his vision.”

Holtmann has said that once Johnson is back to full participation in practice, he can return to game action.

Buckeyes basketball:How has Ohio State tried to replace the injured Meechie Johnson Jr.?

Justice Sueing experiencing soreness in return from injury

The Buckeyes have been without fifth-year versatile forward Justice Sueing since the third game of the season as he’s worked to recover from what has been described as an abdominal injury. Sueing has started to make some progress in his return but he’s not likely to see game action just yet.

“Justice has started to do some things in practice,” Holtmann said. “Right now, he’s doing some things and then see how his body feels and how his body responds. He has had some soreness, which has limited how many days consecutively he can do some things. I wouldn’t say it’s close right now, but he’s taken steps. Justice has been a really good player, really came into his own in the stretch run last year. We’re optimistic we’re going to get him back at some point here for sure.”

Holtmann said that while he doesn’t expect Sueing to return and be the same player he was pre-injury, the Buckeyes are still missing his set of skills.

“(We miss his) paint-touch physicality and his ability to rebound on both ends,” Holtmann said. “We’ve really missed his offensive rebounding. He had this stretch where he was our point-forward. We had a really potent offense and he could get extra possessions. We miss that physicality on the wing on the perimeter. Malaki (Branham)’s getting better. That’s not really who Justin (Ahrens) is. Gene (Brown)’s done some good things. We’ve found different ways to do it. We’ll need to continue until he can come back.”

Keyshawn Woods helping out in practice

With Johnson and Sueing working their way back, Holtmann said the Buckeyes have been somewhat limited in practice and in need of some extra bodies. As a result, the Buckeyes have brought Keyshawn Woods, who helped them reach the 2019 NCAA Tournament, for a few days as allowed by compliance.

“A couple guys playing for us were banged up,” Holtmann said. “A couple guys were under the weather. Hopefully at the start of the week we’ll get a full group back.”

Nebraska game to be rescheduled; Minnesota game has new tip time

Ohio State’s canceled game against Nebraska is going to likely be rescheduled sometime around the Feb. 19 home game against Indiana.

Thursday’s game against the Golden Gophers will now be an 8 p.m. tip. after the program reached a compromise with ESPN, which wanted to start the game even later. The Buckeyes might spend that night in Minnesota as a result.

E.J. Liddell nears scoring milestone

Third-year forward E.J. Liddell is 12 points shy of 1,000 for his career after weighing his NBA draft options during the summer.

“He’s had a phenomenal career,” Holtmann said. “Has to continue to grow as a player and do some things better to have the year I want him to have, that he wants to have. Beautiful kid. Beautiful family. He’s had an unbelievable career. He’ll move onto the NBA after this year. I’m happy for him. I’d love for him to get it in the first five minutes of the game.”

Holtmann praises Malaki Branham’s development

Holtmann took a submitted question about where he has seen first-year guard Malaki Branham grow during his freshman season.

“Tremendous kid,” he said. “High-character person. Cares about what he’s doing, cares about getting better. Comes from a great family. I also think he had an understanding of the challenges that were going to be here for a freshmen, so he’s been able to manage the ups and downs. He’s a talented young man. He’s almost 6-5 with a 6-9 wingspan. Shoots the ball, can get to spots, glides offensively. He’s got real potential that’s still not being even actually tapped into yet. Our fans will continue to see him grow.”

When he committed to Ohio State, Branham said Holtmann and assistant coach Ryan Pedon recruited him so extensively that it bordered on being annoying.

“We were,” Holtmann said. “We were extremely annoying. He was really important because we felt like he was a Buckeye. We felt like he embodied the culture of our program and had the potential to be a really good player. All of those qualities, our full attention was given to him. We started recruiting him 2½ years before he committed. Before the final hours, I was FaceTiming with him about every day.”

When to call timeouts, and when to not

Holtmann took a submitted question about his philosophy about calling timeouts prior to media timeouts late in the first half.

“I think there is value in allowing your guys to play through certain situations,” he said.” I’m not going to be super quick to call a timeout because I think there’s a poise required from going through different experiences with the five guys on the floor. There were probably times this year I could’ve called a quicker timeout. You really want your guys to go through those experiences and learn how to adapt to a hostile environment. We preach all the time make the next right play. That’s something teams have to grow and evolve into doing.”

Holtmann will often replace Liddell when there’s a break in action shortly before a media timeout to give him extra rest, even though Liddell doesn’t always enjoy it.

“You’ll see me take E.J. out a lot of time before the media and sometimes he’ll look at me cross-eyed,” he said. “I did that in the Penn State game and he did that. I want you fresh for the final four minutes. We do try to do that a lot.”

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@AdamJardy