Analysis: Ohio State men's basketball leaning heavily on starters through first two games

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra

No. 23 Ohio State opened the season with a 27-point romp against Illinois State last Wednesday before being pushed to the wire in a 10-point win against UMass Lowell on Sunday. The two opponents provided different styles of play and levels of difficulty, as Illinois State played man defense and UMass Lowell stuck to a zone for all but the first few minutes and took advantage of a cold-shooting day for Ohio State.

As the Buckeyes prepare to host Morehead State on Wednesday, here’s a look at the lineups that coach Chris Holtmann has used through the first 80 minutes of the season.

Ohio State Buckeyes forward Kyle Young (25) hits a shot against UMass Lowell River Hawks forward Connor Withers (5) during the first half of their game at Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio on November 29, 2020.

Game One vs. Illinois State

• The Buckeyes have used the same starting lineup for both games: CJ Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Justice Sueing, E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young. They arguably could not have started the season any better, opening with a 10-0 run against Illinois State in the first 3:18 before freshman Zed Key replaced Liddell. Key has been the first player off the bench in each of the first two games.

• Junior Justin Ahrens was the second player off the bench in the opener, replacing Washington at 15:45 with the lead up to 13-0. In a lineup with Walker, Sueing, Key and Young, Holtmann went with just one true guard on the court. That lineup lasted 1:18 and extended the lead to 19-0 before the first mass subs of the game.

• With 14:27 left, freshman Gene Brown made his debut as Washington and Liddell returned to the game to give Sueing, Walker and Young their first breaks. It again created a lineup of one true guard (Washington), two wings (Ahrens and Brown) and two post players (Key and Liddell). They played for 1:41, scoring three points and allowing the Redbirds to get on the board with a free throw and a jumper.

• The starters were reunited with 11:46 to play and the lead at 22-3. This shift would last for 3:01, and Ohio State would both score and allow six points to make it a 28-9 lead with 8:45 left in the half when a pair of new faces entered the game. Fourth-year junior Musa Jallow and senior Jimmy Sotos made their season debuts here, replacing Washington and Liddell.

• This lineup featured four ball handlers in Walker and Sotos (guards) and Jallow and Sueing (wing/forwards) with one true post player in Young. During the next 2:05, the Buckeyes both scored and allowed five points until Ahrens replaced Sueing with 6:40 left and the lead at 33-14.

• The Buckeyes stuck with this look for a while. Key replaced Young at 6:18 and Washington replaced Walker at 5:50, and it wasn’t until Liddell replaced Jallow that they again had two post players together (Liddell and Key).

• It was back to the starters to open the second half, and they got some longer play this time. With the lead at 42-25, the starters played the first 5:52, scoring 17 points and allowing nine before two substitutions with 14:08 to play and the lead at 59-34.

• Sophomore Ibrahima Diallo made his debut here as the last available scholarship player, replacing Young while Ahrens replaced Washington. This lineup had one true guard (Walker), a wing (Ahrens), two forwards (Sueing and Liddell) and a center (Diallo), and in 1:22 it allowed a three-pointer and got a Diallo free throw.

• With 10:25 to play and the lead at 68-39, the lineup of Ahrens, Brown, Key, Liddell and Washington reappeared and played for 1:57, scoring four and allowing five. By this point, the game was clearly already decided.

• Walk-on Harrison Hookfin entered with 4:52, which is where I stop tracking lineups.

Game Two vs. UMass Lowell

• Sunday, Ohio State led 6-2 when Key replaced Liddell at 16:49. In both games, the freshman checked into the game before the first media timeout. This time, though, Liddell checked back in at 14:41, giving Young an early break with the Ohio State lead at 10-6. This new lineup of Key, Liddell, Sueing, Walker and Washington didn’t appear in the opener, and in a shift lasting 3:37 it grew a 10-6 lead to 16-11 before Holtmann made three changes.

• The result was a new lineup with Sotos as the primary ball handler, Ahrens and Sueing as guard/forwards and Liddell and Young as post players. It only lasted 26 seconds, though, before Brown replaced Sueing, and then Walker replaced Sotos when he picked up a second foul at 9:23 with the lead at 17-11. This lineup of Walker, Ahrens, Brown, Liddell and Young took the Buckeyes to the under-8 timeout with a 21-16 lead and 7:16 left in the half.

• The lineups flipped here and the Buckeyes put an excess of ball handlers on the court. Walker and Washington were joined by Brown and Sueing with Young at center, and for the next 2:15 that five-point lead grew to six at 25-19 before a pair of substitutions with 5:01 to play.

• The first lineup to get a second shift during the first half was Key, Liddell, Sueing, Walker and Washington. Holtmann went with that group at the under-4 timeout with the lead cut to 29-26, and in 64 seconds they scored two and allowed two points.

• With the lead at 32-31 and 52 seconds remaining, Ahrens checked in to replace Walker as Washington was attempting the second of two free throws. It ensured that Ahrens would be on the court for the final defensive possession of the half and not Walker. The Buckeyes went with Ahrens, Brown, Key, Sueing and Washington, and when Washington missed a three with 17 seconds left and Sueing couldn’t score on a put-back, the River Hawks got a layup with a second left to tie the game at 33 entering the half.

• The starters got more run to open the second half. The same group that opened the game played the first 6:45 of the second half before Sotos and Key replaced Walker and Liddell, and UMass Lowell held a 47-43 lead thanks to a 14-10 run.

• This was a new lineup, and in the next 1:17 it pulled within two on a Sueing layup before Liddell returned to give Young a break with 11:58 to play and the UMass Lowell lead at 47-45.

• Ohio State would reclaim the lead while a lineup of Key, Sotos, Sueing, Walker and Young put together a 5-0 run during a shift that lasted 1:01. It ended when Sueing hit two free throws with 9:35 to play to give the Buckeyes a 53-51 lead and was replaced by Washington.

• With 7:33 to play, Sueing replaced Sotos with the lead at 53-51. The final substitution of the game came with 6:22 left and the lead at 59-56 when Liddell replaced Key, putting Ohio State’s starters on the court.

• UMass Lowell would immediately hit a three to tie the game, but in the final 6:22 the starters outscored the River Hawks 15-8 to earn the 74-64 win.


• Through two games, the starting five has scored 64 points, allowed 39 and played 28:29. That lineup has scored 39.0% of the team’s points, allowed 29.8% of the points and played for 35.6% of the minutes.

• No other lineup has logged more than five minutes of playing time.

• The Buckeyes have used 28 lineups of exclusively scholarship players through two games but only three of them saw action in both games: the starters, the starters but swap Liddell for Key (4:16, 13 points scored, 9 allowed) and a lineup of Ahrens, Brown, Key, Sueing and Walker (1:40, 6 points scored, 2 allowed).

• Walker and Washington have been on the court together for 47:08, or 62.7% of the total minutes.

• Liddell and Young have been on the court together for 33:51, or 42.3% of the total minutes.