Akron, OH

Men’s Basketball: ‘Couldn’t breathe’: Key details game-winning layup

The Lantern
Ohio State sophomore forward Zed Key (23) lays in the game-winning shot over Akron sophomore forward Ali Ali (24) during the Ohio State-Akron Game Tuesday. Ohio State won 67-66. Photo Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Akron only led for 10:20 in Ohio State’s season opener with its final lead coming with 5.7 seconds remaining after sophomore forward Ali Ali drained a 3-pointer and finished off the four-point play to give the Zips a 66-65 lead.

Freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. quickly brought the ball past half court before Ohio State called a timeout with 3.2 seconds left — a move that Buckeyes head coach Chris Holtmann said was instituted by assistant coach Ryan Pedon.

Out of the timeout, senior forward Justin Ahrens inbounded the ball to freshman guard Malaki Branham at the top of the key, set up nicely by a hard screen from sophomore forward Zed Key.

Key slid down the lane, throwing his hands up and calling for the ball before Branham hit him for a strike 5 feet from the basket.

The Zips double-teamed Key, with graduate guard K.J. Walton dropping  into the paint to help Ali down low. Key split the double team and, with Ali’s hands in his face, layed it in with 0.3 seconds left.

“It was exciting, I couldn’t breathe,” Key said. “When we got to the huddle, I was hyperventilating because I didn’t breathe throughout the whole thing.”

Key’s physicality on that play, keeping his chin on the basket and playing through contact, was something he did all night, with the exception of the first four minutes of the second half — in which Key missed a layup, committed a foul and a turnover — Holtmann said.

“I thought Zed was really good, with the exception of the first four minutes,” Holtmann said. “I thought the first four minutes of the second half he was really bad.”

Key opened the night by scoring the Buckeyes’ first four points, backing down on defenders in the paint on both makes.

With 2:17 to go in the second half, Ahrens fed Key down low who finished with a thunderous dunk to cut Ohio State’s deficit to 62-61.

Key’s work in the final 22 seconds may have gone forgotten — with good reason, considering he hit the game-winner.

Branham went on a dribble drive along the baseline, missing his attempted layup off the glass and over the rim. Key grabbed the Buckeyes’ 17th offensive rebound of the game before tipping in a shot that gave Ohio State what looked like the game-sealer at 65-62.

Key finished his night with 14 points, which tied a career-high mark, with five rebounds.

However, the Bay Shore, New York, native didn’t just bully defenders in the paint. He handled his own on the defensive side as well.

With 15:58 left in the second half, Key was getting backed down by Akron sophomore guard Greg Tribble. The 6-foot-8 Key swatted away Tribble’s first attempt before contesting his put-back opportunity into a third-consecutive miss.

Then, fast forward to 41.4 seconds to go with Ohio State clinging to a slim one-point lead, Key made a crucial defensive rebound off Ali’s 3-point attempt. He boxed out his defender, using all of his 245-pound frame to back the defender away from the rim to come down with the ball.

Holtmann said he was happy for Key to be the one to come away with the victory.

“I was really happy for Zed because we coached Zed hard because we believe he has a lot of potential and he can get a lot better,” Holtmann said. “He loves Ohio State, he loves wearing the scarlet and gray. He’s a tremendous kid and I’m happy for him. I really am.”

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