Shooters shoot, so the shooter shot.
At the top of the 3-point line CJ Walker took one dribble toward the paint, pulling UMass Lowell’s zone toward him, and dished it to Washington as he faded away into what suddenly had become a soft spot at the 3-point arc in the River Hawks’ defense. Walker’s pass was low but not too low for Washington to collect it, rise and drain a 3-pointer to put the Buckeyes ahead, 70-63, with 1:08 remaining.
It was, for all intents and purposes, the dagger in his team’s 74-64 victory. His make gave Ohio State a lead of more than five points for the first time in the second half, and the following possession UMass Lowell had to start intentionally fouling.
“Today, I was put in the position to take a big shot toward the end, and I put it in with confidence,” Washington said afterward. “I definitely believe in myself at the highest ability in that regard. I know the coaches believe in me, as well. I know the players believe in me, as well. Whatever they need me to do to win games is what I'm going to do.”
That confidence has been apparent ever since Washington stepped foot on campus. Before he ever played a minute for the Buckeyes, Kyle Young said he “brings the most personality to the team” and Musa Jallow jokingly said he “talks way too much,” calling him goofy.
Duane Washington Jr. has never doubted Duane Washington Jr., especially when it comes to firing up shots.
Sometimes that gets him into trouble. Inefficiency within the 3-point arc, inconsistency between games and decision-making have all been constant points of emphasis from head coach Chris Holtmann and the other coaches since Washington arrived on campus. Yet the self-belief also makes him somebody who’s eminently unafraid to fire up important shots in key moments even if things haven’t always gone well for him from the field.
On Sunday, Washington missed his first 3-point attempt. And his second. And his third. And his fourth. And his fifth.
Finally, he drilled a look from the outside with 14:40 remaining in the game to give the Buckeyes a two-point lead in the closer-than-expected game. In the 26th minute, it was his team’s first made 3-pointer. Washington proceeded to miss his next two 3-pointers, make one with 6:24 left then miss another three minutes later.
For some reason, even though he had ample space for several looks, he just couldn’t hit the shots that have typically gone in in his career as a Buckeye. He shot 39.3 percent from 3-point range a year ago, but when Walker found him with a little over a minute and he rose to take another triple, he had only made 2-of-10 3-pointers.
“I'm happy with a lot of his looks,” Holtmann said. “He had some really, really clean looks, particularly a couple corner 3s. The kid's going to make them more than he's going to miss them. He is.”
Holtmann’s belief in the junior guard paid off down the stretch when it mattered most.
Washington’s 3-pointer with 68 seconds left on the clock gave him a career-high 21 points and and, effectively, gave his team the win. That’s the thing with Washington: You can never count him out, even if he’s not shooting his best, because he’ll never count himself out.
“You've still got to be confident in yourself,” Washington said. “I believed in myself. I let it fly with confidence and put it in.”
The made triple to put Ohio State ahead by seven points punctuated Washington’s performance.
His defensive impact, though, might have gone a bit overlooked given his 21 points and final shot. He drew the assignment on Obadiah Noel, a returning first-team All-America East guard who scored 22 points in the season opener then 35 points on Saturday in a loss to Illinois State. He was UMass Lowell’s go-to offensive weapon, but Washington – and his teammates – made him work for everything.
Noel managed a team-high 15 points but did so while shooting 5-for-21 from the field – including 3-for-13 from 3-point range – attempting only four free throws and turning it over four times in 40 minutes. As Holtmann said, Ohio State was “able to create some inefficiency on his part.”
“Coming into this game, I knew that he was their best player and that was my matchup throughout the game,” Washington said. “I wanted to show that I got better on defense this offseason, and that's something that I really, really worked on hard this offseason. It definitely felt good to do it on that side of the ball.”
Importantly, Washington also went 4-for-6 from inside the 3-point arc and made all four free throws he attempted. Holtmann has hammered home 2-point efficiency as an area he has to improve.
Washington hasn’t put it all together yet. This isn’t the total package. But he’s getting closer and closer. One of these days, Ohio State hopes, he’ll get there.
“Collectively, I think we all have to be more engaged on both ends,” Holtmann said. “But I thought Duane took strides there.”