Presser Bullets: Chris Holtmann Discusses the Challenges of Facing Merrimack's Zone, Texas A&M Takeaways

By Andy Anders on November 14, 2023 at 4:36 pm

Early-season losses provide plenty of growth opportunity for a basketball team.

Fresh off Ohio State's 73-66 loss to a ranked Texas A&M squad, head coach Chris Holtmann said he's learned more about where his team stands and where each player, such as center Felix Okpara, can improve.

Moving on to the Buckeyes' next opponent in Merrimack, Holtmann referred to the Warriors' 2-3 zone defense as "outstanding" and feels they have a "disciplined" approach.

Here is a recap of Holtmann's press conference on Tuesday:

Chris Holtmann

  • On Merrimack: "Their zone is outstanding. They've got aggressive guards. They're disciplined. ... It's a good program, good team, used to winning, having success."
  • Holtmann added that Merrimack's zone is a "staple" of their program, which allows them to execute it at a high level. "It's almost like they're forcing you to play left-handed. It's just unique in that you see zones on occasion ... they do a great job coaching them, making sure they're active, and they play hard. And they're disruptive."
  • Ohio State is still looking for offensive weapons that can be consistent answers against zone defense. "We're still developing that and utilizing that. We've been really good against zones over the years, particularly when E.J. (Liddell) was here. He's the best I've ever coached against the zone. ... There's different ways to attack it and we'll look to do that."
  • On what he wants to see from Evan Mahaffey: "I think he's got to be a really good rebounder for us, he's got to be a really versatile defender. ... There will be a time throughout the year where we want to play a little smaller and more versatile, and he's going to have to guard bigger guys."
  • On working through foul trouble with Felix Okpara in practice: "A lot of his fouls have come from – he needs to have better awareness off the ball. ... Felix has done a good job being the second off the floor (as a shot blocker). ... Some of his fouls have come off of offensive rebound attempts, which I think we're OK living with one or two of those."
  • More on Okpara: "He's got to rebound better. Far better than what he has. And he knows that. He's more capable than what he's shown."
  • On what Zed Key has shown coming off the bench: "He's done a great job with it, embracing it. ... Just has to continue to grow, continue to find ways to hep impact this team ... I like where his mind is right now."
  • On the team's approach to continued growth: "Just got to keep taking the feedback and getting better. ... It's a very long season of college basketball. ... That's important that every day, you're just taking that feedback and getting better."
  • On Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle Jr.: "That's what we're really looking for is consistency out of those guys ... that's the challenge that we have for those guys. ... They've had some good moments early in the season for sure."
  • More on Gayle as a passer: "He's really got playmaking ability at 6-4. It really helps him when you put him out there with guys that can shoot it. ... He's done a good job and this will test him tomorrow because they're so active in gaps."
  • On the balance for Okpara in terms of going for a rebound or a shot block on a given defensive possession: "You're reading the shoulders of the offensive player. ... You can't just be reckless in just flying around because you're often guarding the best rebounder on the other team. ... He brings a really good mind to the game, I think he's a really smart kid and really smart about reading situations."
  • Okpara's coachability will help him continue to improve, Holtmann said. "Felix is a beautiful kid. He's a great kid, I can't emphasize that enough. He's got a great personality and he's coachable. ... I have absolute confidence and belief that because he's a great kid ... he's going to have some bright days for us for sure."
  • There are still no significant updates on Taison Chatman, Holtmann said.

Felix Okpara and Evan Mahaffey

  • Mahaffey on lessons from the first two games: "Looking over the film after both the games, we've learned the things that we need to work on as a team. Rebounding, getting those key stops ... working on those key details that we need to get better at over the course of the season."
  • Okpara says the team's film sessions have been very informative. "It's really good. I wasn't that guy who was watching film a lot, but I feel like film really helped over the past year. ... You think you're doing things right, but then you see the mistakes you make. ... It challenges us to do better."
  • Mahaffey echoed Okpara's sentiments about film. "I feel like our film sessions are really detailed. ... In order to be a really good team, you have to be able to look at yourself and critique and not feel like anybody's attacking you."
  • Finding ways to Merrimack's zone will be important, Okpara said. "It's just about finding the little spots in the zone we can attack. We've got to crash the glass this game, too."
  • Mahaffey on being a starter rather than coming off the bench as he did at Penn State: "It's definitely different but it's felt great. I'm excited to be here."
  • Okpara on what he's working on in his game: "I've just got to be more aggressive to the basket, I want to stay out of foul trouble. I've got to have more willingness to do more stuff while still focusing on what I'm good at. ... I've got to get more rebounds, crash the glass offensively."
  • Mahaffey on what his best basketball looks like: "Coming to a new team ... it takes time to adjust, especially in a real game. First game, didn't really take a shot, getting a feel for the game was a little difficult. ... But just being able to play against them and practice every day, get more comfortable in the system ... those things just come with time. It always goes back to playmaking and playing great defense."
  • Free throw issues in games are about both mentality and approach after plenty of practice reps, Mahaffey said. "Just knowing and trusting your routine and going up and knocking the shot down. ... (It's also about) not overreacting to one shot. ... It's about not letting that one thing deter your mind because it's basketball. Not every shot is going to fall."
  • Okpara on how he senses whether to go for a blocked shot or focus on boxing out for a rebound: "For me, it's just instinct. ... It definitely takes me out of position for rebounding, but I feel like if I go for at least four or five blocked shots, I should be able to get two or three of those rebounds (off of them)."
  • Mahaffey feels that the team needs to do a better job rebounding defensively to support Okpara as a shot blocker as well. "We have to help him out too."
  • Mahaffey on the difficulty of facing Okpara as a shot blocker: "It's definitely hard. ... I've tried to dunk on him a few times, I haven't been successful yet. ... You feel like you have that step on him but he gets there very, very quick."
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