Zed Key Records Double-Double in First Half Against Charleston Southern, Leads Way For Buckeyes in 82-56 Blowout

By Griffin Strom on November 10, 2022 at 11:25 pm
Zed Key
Adam Cairns, Columbus Dispatch

To the surprise of many, Zed Key started his junior season from the outside in on Monday. In game two, it was the other way around.

The junior center set the tone for the second straight game against Charleston Southern and improved upon a standout season opener that saw him record just the third double-double of his career. This time, Key had a double-double in the first half alone, and he didn’t need to show off his newfound 3-point shooting skills to do it.

Key scored the first six points for Ohio State, with four coming on dunks and two of his first three baskets following offensive rebounds from the Bay Shore, New York, native. The Buccaneers might have broken the ice with the night's first score, but Key ensured they carried no momentum forward from that moment. Charleston Southern held the lead for 42 seconds on Thursday before Key got rolling, and he never got it back after his first basket.

“Obviously, I like raising the roof. It gets the crowd into it, gives the team energy,” Key said. “I had a couple of dunks in the first half, putbacks. But all of that, just hard work and effort. It tells the other team you’re setting the rules. Coach emphasizes that a lot, setting the rules. This is how we’re going to play this game.”

Key finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds by halftime, at which point Ohio State had already mounted a 24-point advantage. Key knocked down six of his seven shot attempts as the Buckeyes outscored Charleston Southern 26-10 in the paint and outrebounded the Buccaneers by 11. Half of Key’s 10 boards in the first half came on offense, which helped Ohio State score 12 second-chance points through 20 minutes.

In other words, there was plenty of reason for Key’s teammates and the Buckeye fans in attendance to join him in his signature celebration on Thursday.

“I’m definitely trying to do that all season. Come out with that fire,” Key said. “It sets the tone. This is how we’re gonna play this year, and it shocks the whole team.”

Just how good was Key’s opening half against Charleston Southern? His double-double was the first in a first half for the Buckeyes in exactly three years to the day, when Kaleb Wesson scored 11 points and pulled down 11 boards against UMass-Lowell on Nov. 10, 2019. With Thursday’s effort, Key joins Buckeye greats Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Keita Bates-Diop as the only Ohio State players since 2004 to record double-doubles in back-to-back games to open a scarlet and gray season.

"He’s not gonna suddenly transform into a 3-point shooting five-man. … This is who Zed is.”– Chris Holtmann on Zed Key's interior play

Through one half, Key appeared primed to top his career-high scoring total of 20, which came against Duke as the Buckeyes knocked off the No. 1 team in the country at home last November. But given the landslide lead Ohio State mounted early, there was no need.

Key played eight minutes in the second half and totaled 17 points and 13 rebounds by the end. It was Key’s second straight double-double to start the year, the first time he’s ever strung together more than one in a row, and his highest-scoring performance since the Duke game.

“The start of the game with Zed’s physicality was really important. I thought Zed was great on the glass, almost every loose ball,” Chris Holtmann said. ”Really set a tone early that I think gave our team a real lift.”

Key only missed two of the 10 shots he attempted and even sank the lone free throw he took against the Buccaneers. If anyone thought Key would be trigger-happy from 3-point range after knocking down his first two against Robert Morris, they were mistaken. Key had 10 of his 17 points on dunks alone in the season's second game.

The impact of Key’s big plays on the Buckeye faithful is evident, but freshman wing Brice Sensabaugh – who followed Key’s lead to finish with the second-most points (14) for Ohio State – confirmed just how much juice he gives to the rest of the team with his energy.

Sensabaugh came into his postgame interview calling the Buckeye big man “Shaq Key,” even if the moniker was meant in jest.

“For me as a younger guy, just seeing Zed play like that and him rubbing off on us with his effort and just his intensity, it picks us up,” Sensabaugh said. “Really, I was just joking (about the Shaq comparison), but obviously, as our starting five-man and a team captain, that kind of stuff, it definitely rubs off on the rest of us and picks us up to play harder.”

Along with Key’s status as a first-year captain on a young Buckeye team, the coaching staff has also asked him to play his game in several aspects this season. It’s still early, but thus far, Key has been up to the task.

“I think that his motor, his defense and his defensive rebounding is what we’ve been challenging him with. I think he’s one of the better offensive rebounding bigs I’ve coached,” Holtmann said. “He does a great job getting to the weakside, he’s physical, he’s all of 255, 260, he’s got good hands and long arms. He’s almost a 7-2 wingspan now. We’ve challenged him with defensive effort across the board, better attention to detail than what he’s had in the past two years, and defensive rebounding. I think he’s made strides in that area.”

As for his 3-point shooting, Holtmann said Key would have his opportunities to knock down open shots from the outside, even if he didn’t attempt any against Charleston Southern. But the dominant interior presence Key provided is what Holtmann expects to see far more often from his starting center this season.

“I think there was a little bit too much made of the threes. He is gonna shoot them, and he is gonna shoot them when he has time and space, and he’s proven in all of our shooting drills to be capable of making them,” Holtmann said. “But he’s not gonna suddenly transform into a 3-point shooting five-man. … This is who Zed is.”

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