How the Ohio State Buckeyes went small and won at Northwestern

Adam Jardy
Ohio State forward Andre Wesson, front left, controls the ball against Northwestern forward A.J. Turner during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Evanston, Ill., Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

EVANSTON, Ill. — Thanks in equal parts to some foul trouble, an injury and a need to shake things up, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann got a little creative with his lineups Sunday at Northwestern.

The result was a 71-59 win against the Wildcats that came after a stretch of six losses in seven games that had the Buckeyes headed to the basement of the Big Ten. It also gave them a few options to look at entering a home game Saturday against Indiana and beyond.

Here’s how it unfolded.

• For a second straight game, Holtmann went with a starting lineup of CJ Walker, Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kyle Young and Kaleb Wesson. After being outscored 16-7 in 8:21 of a three-point home loss to Minnesota last Thursday, it was another tough start for this group. Holtmann made three changes only 2:47 in with D.J. Carton, Duane Washington Jr. and E.J. Liddell replacing Walker, Muhammad and Young, respectively.

It was a 4-0 Northwestern lead at that point, and Ohio State had missed three shots and turned it over twice.

• This lineup of Carton, Washington, Liddell and the Wesson brothers had played together for 3:49 in Big Ten play, all of that coming in a loss at Penn State two games ago. It didn’t immediately make things better and was outscored 5-2 in 1:53 before the first media timeout at 15:20.

• Young checked back in here to give Kaleb Wesson a break, but it didn’t last long. Liddell committed his second turnover of the game and was replaced by Kaleb Wesson after 53 seconds with the score at 9-4.

• This lineup of Washington and Carton in the backcourt with Young and the Wessons played until the under-12 media timeout and was outscored 6-4 during that 2:46 stretch.

• Here was where Ohio State started to dig in. With 11:37 left in the half and Northwestern ahead 15-8, Holtmann made three substitutions and went with a lineup of Walker and Washington in the backcourt, Justin Ahrens on the wing and Liddell and Kaleb Wesson down low. This produced an 8-2 run in the next 2:59 that briefly gave Ohio State a lead. This lineup had appeared together for 1:03 all season and had been outscored 4-0.

• Muhammad checked back in with 6:59 to play and the score tied at 19 as part of a lineup that also included Walker, Ahrens and the Wessons. It lasted for 1:03 and got four free throws from Andre Wesson on one possession before Young replaced Kaleb Wesson and Washington replaced Ahrens with 5:56 left in the half and the Ohio State lead at 23-20.

• In 1:44, this lineup built the lead to 30-23 on a 7-3 run. Then Carton replaced Walker and hit a three-pointer before Northwestern called timeout with the Buckeyes lead up to 10 and Walker came back in for Carton after a 27-second shift.

• It was still a 10-point lead at 36-26 when Kaleb Wesson replaced his brother to complete a lineup of Walker, Washington, Muhammad and Young. Northwestern used a 6-2 run to pull within six before Holtmann made offense-defense subs for the final 1:16, putting Ahrens in for offense and Muhammad in for defense. At the half, it was a 38-35 lead after the Wildcats closed on a 9-2 run.

• Holtmann kept with his starters for the second half. This time, they lasted for 3:51 and traded three-pointers before Ahrens replaced Kaleb Wesson at 16:09 after the big man picked up a third foul with the lead at 41-38. This lineup had never been used before this season.

• It would only last for 18 seconds, though, because Muhammad subbed out at the under-16 media timeout and did not return for the remainder of the game. Walker also headed to the bench, and a never-before-used lineup of Carton, Washington, Ahrens, Andre Wesson and Young took the floor for a true small-ball type of lineup. In 2:01, it scored two points and allowed five as Northwestern took a 44-43 lead.

• Kaleb Wesson returned in place of Young with 13:50 to play here, and the result was a 9-2 run for the Buckeyes that pushed the lead to 52-46 and forced Northwestern to call timeout with 11:48 to play.

• The junior then picked up a fourth foul with 7:35 to play and the lead at 57-51. He was replaced by Carton and did not return until the final minute. The lineup of Walker, Carton, Washington, Liddell and Andre Wesson was outscored 4-2 in 2:28 before Young replaced Liddell with 5:08 to play and the lead at 59-55.

• This was the lineup that sealed the game for Ohio State. Walker, Washington, Carton, Andre Wesson and Young played the next 4:12 and outscore Northwestern 10-4 to push it out of reach.

• The Buckeyes have used an average of 20 lineups in their last three games: 21 at Penn State, 19 against Minnesota and 20 against Northwestern. It’s the most varied stretch of games all season.

• Ohio State used a two-guard lineup with Washington on the ball and Carton off the ball for 9:45 of this game, just shy of 25% of the total minutes. It scored 19 points and allowed 18 with the duo comprising the backcourt.


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