Ohio State Likely to Lean on Kyle Young if Zed Key Misses Time With Ankle Injury

By Griffin Strom on February 28, 2022 at 10:10 am
Kyle Young
© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Buckeyes may have a short-term dilemma on their hands at the starting center position.

Sophomore big man Zed Key, who has started 23 of Ohio State’s 26 games this season, appeared to turn his ankle in the second half of Sunday’s blowout loss to Maryland on the road, and did not return after limping to the locker room late in the game.

Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said after the 75-60 loss that Key’s status moving forward is unclear, but with three games to play in an upcoming six-day stretch to finish the regular season, losing a starter for any duration of time is less than ideal for the Buckeyes.

“I’m not sure yet on Zed, he couldn’t play, clearly,” Holtmann said. “He was out for today. Obviously we’ve got three games this week, so I’m not sure what that’s gonna look like. Hopefully we’ll get him back, but obviously we got postseason to think about as well. He’ll get evaluated and we’ll know a little bit more.”

Luckily for Ohio State, one player off the bench figures to slot into that position with relative ease, and Kyle Young just so happens to be having a late-season resurgence after a five-game slump to start February.

In the past four games, the fifth-year forward is averaging 11 points per game on 62.5 percent shooting and pulling down 5.8 rebounds a night. Those are all improvements on his season averages, as Young has put up 8.5 points and five boards per game on 52.3 percent shooting for the year.

On the road against Illinois this past Thursday, Young tied his season-high with 18 points against the Illini, knocking down six of his seven shot attempts to help power the Buckeyes to perhaps their best road win of the season.

Young remained hot to start things off against Maryland on Sunday, hitting his first four shots in a row to lead Ohio State with eight points in the first half. Even though Young only finished with eight by the end of the upset loss, he still helped Ohio State outperform Maryland in bench scoring by a 22-2 margin.

Young has proven capable of being the third scoring option for Ohio State, something it hasn’t had with any real consistency all season, and he even started the second half for the Buckeyes on Sunday before Key’s eventual injury. After starting in all but one of his appearances in his third and fourth seasons with Ohio State, Young has started just one game this season, but it looks as though he might return to that role late in the season.

Young appeared to relish the reserve role early in the year, getting off to a hot start that saw him average 10.6 points per game on 64.3 percent shooting in just 21.6 minutes per night through his first eight games. But Ohio State’s extended COVID-19 pause through most of December did not help the Canton, Ohio, native, who struggled through many of his next 12 games, a stretch in which Young put up just 6.3 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting.

Those struggles were particularly evident through the final five games of that window, when Young’s field-goal percentage dropped to just 31 percent as he mustered fewer than five points per game for Ohio State.

But even though Young has returned to form as of late, he remains an undersized five for a Buckeye team that has struggled on the glass in recent losses. Ohio State lost the rebounding battle 37-32 against Maryland on the road, and Iowa had a 36-30 advantage in that department in another double-digit loss on Feb. 19.

No matter which Buckeye big is in the starting lineup, that’s one area where Holtmann has placed an emphasis on immediate improvement.

“I think it’s been our Achilles’ heel across the board,” Holtmann said. “We gotta rebound the ball better, for sure.”

Joey Brunk could also see an uptick in minutes if Key is out, but the sixth-year Indiana transfer hasn’t played more than 13 minutes against any Big Ten opponent this season while averaging just 5.3 minutes per game overall. The Buckeyes will need his body, though, particularly as the fatigue of a busy late-season stretch sets in for several players.

Ohio State returns to action Tuesday at home when it will take on Nebraska at 7 p.m., and the Buckeyes close out their regular season schedule with matchups against Michigan State and Michigan on Thursday and Sunday, all in Columbus.

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