Zed Key Bounces Back from Poor Performance at Purdue, Scores 14 Points in Ohio State's Win Over Maryland

By Griffin Strom on February 7, 2022 at 10:10 am
Zed Key

Zed Key did not have his finest performance last weekend at Purdue. With one point, one rebound and four fouls in the loss, it was closer to being his worst.

Chris Holtmann didn’t shy away from challenging his starting five man to respond with a markedly improved effort in Ohio State’s next appearance, and specifically when it came to consistent effort and physicality.

Key did not disappoint on any front Sunday.

On 6-for-7 shooting, Key finished with 14 points in an 82-67 win over Maryland, which were his most since scoring 20 points against Duke in November. Key also scooped up seven rebounds, got to the free-throw line four times and only committed two fouls against the Terps. Key managed to do all of that in just 22 minutes as he turned in one of his best performances of the season.

“Zed, I thought, had some really good moments. Zed has to be consistent, that’s the sign of growth of a player,” Holtmann said after the game. “He’s had really, really good moments this year. I mean, we can rattle off how many. He’s had some tremendous games. What we’re looking for with him is consistency on the defensive end, the offensive end, but most importantly, his effort. That’s what we’re looking for, and I think that’s the challenge for a young guy. He’s gotta continue to grow in that area.”

Key wasted no time getting going against Maryland. Jamari Wheeler scored the first basket of the day for the Buckeyes, knocking down a three from the corner, but Key took over from there with three straight left-handed buckets in the lane. Those six straight points were part of a 9-2 run for Ohio State, which took a five-point lead 3:39 into the game and never trailed the rest of the way.

For Key, that fast start was exactly what he needed to get back into rhythm.

“When I see that first basket go through, I’m like, ‘OK, get it going, you’re good,’” Key said. “Every game I’m nervous before the game, so that first basket I’m like, ‘OK, you good.’ Coming in playing physical, it sends the team a message when you’re the more physical team and you just come out there and punch them in the mouth, basically, it definitely does send a message and it helped us win tonight. Maryland’s a really good team, but we got them from the jump.”

One week prior, a slow start from Key took him out of rhythm completely. At 6-foot-8, Key is something of an undersized center in the Big Ten, and guarding the Boilermakers' 7-foot-4 Zach Edey did not help in that department. Key was much better against 6-foot-11 Maryland center Qudus Wahab.

“I picked up two quick fouls against Purdue and I just really couldn’t get into a flow in the game after that,” Key said. “Come back in, foul, go sit back down, come back in, foul. It’s tough. But it’s not an excuse, I still gotta come in and be an everyday guy. Just going back talking to the coaching staff, they said I need to be better. So I took that to heart and just try to be better every day.”

Key had another quick start to the second half, scoring two of the first three baskets for Ohio State – both layups – to help expand the Buckeyes’ lead from 13 to 19 as part of a 9-3 run to open the final frame.

By the end of the game, Ohio State had outscored Maryland 32-22 in the paint and outrebounded the Terrapins 36-33. Key was crucial in both of those efforts, and the New York native said the genesis of his heightened intensity was the message he got from the coaching staff following last week’s game.

“After the Purdue game I was talking to the coaching staff and they just said to be more consistent,” Key said. “They expect a lot out of me every day in practice and in the game, so that’s what they said, just be more consistent. I’ve been with Coach (Ryan Pedon) every day, running more, shooting it a lot more, just trying to stay consistent.”

One chief aspect of that consistency is his conditioning, which Key said he’s been working harder to keep up on after learning some lessons the hard way a year ago. As a freshman, Key said “my wind had gone significantly down” at this point in the season, and that it impacted his quality of play. Key said he’s determined not to let that happen again this year.

But as good as Key’s bounceback performance was Sunday, it was what Holtmann and the Buckeye coaching staff expected to see. The New York native is Ohio State’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on the season, and his contributions are often a major factor in whether the Buckeyes win or lose in the Big Ten.

Now that Key has heeded the call from his coaches, the next goal will be to produce like he did against Maryland on more of a consistent basis with just 10 games remaining in the regular season.

“He’s a phenomenal kid, so I expected him to play better,” Holtmann said. “But now he’s gotta see, really come tomorrow at practice, what is his preparation going to be leading into Rutgers.”

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