Analysis: Here's the lineup that helped Ohio State fend off Cleveland State

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
The Ohio State Buckeyes sing "Carmen Ohio" to an empty arena following Sunday's NCAA Division I basketball game against Cleveland State Vikings at Value City Arena in Columbus, Oh. on December 13, 2020. Ohio State won the game 67-61.

By now, we know that Zed Key stepped into the void left by E.J. Liddell and helped No. 20 Ohio State avoid an upset loss to Cleveland State last Sunday. Liddell’s absence due to a bout with mononucleosis forced Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann to alter his starting lineup for the first time and, although Key didn’t factor into that, he did post the first double-double of his career off the bench.

After the 67-61 win against the Vikings, Holtmann frequently referenced how Cleveland State’s physicality really challenged his team. That will only grow as Big Ten play starts Wednesday at Purdue, which is one of the nation’s biggest teams.

Here’s how the Buckeyes grappled with Cleveland State and what that could mean against the Boilermakers.

*Junior Justin Ahrens slid into the starting lineup to replace Liddell, joining CJ Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Justice Sueing and Kyle Young. This was a brand-new lineup, and it would play for the first 5:54 before Jimmy Sotos and Key replaced Washington and Young and the lead at 8-4. This, too, was a new lineup.

*The first lineup that wasn’t making its debut came with 11:59 left in the half and the lead at 12-9 when the Buckeyes used Washington, Sotos, freshman Eugene Brown, Musa Jallow and Key for 37 seconds before Young checked back in to replace Key. That lineup with Key logged 2:56 in the season-opening win against Illinois State, scoring nine points and allowing six. On three possessions, it got a missed three from Brown and a Key turnover and allowed a layup to cut the lead to 12-11.

*For a shift lasting only 58 seconds, the Buckeyes used a three-guard lineup with Sotos, Walker and Washington alongside sometimes-guard Jallow and Key. They got a Jallow jumper to push the lead to 18-12 before Sueing replaced Sotos with 8:12 to play in the half.

*That lineup played nearly three minutes, but in 2:58 it allowed four points while scoring three to let Cleveland State pull within 21-16 before Ahrens and Ibrahima Diallo replaced Jallow and Key with 5:14 to play in the half. That lineup then allowed the Vikings to pull a point closer at 22-18 before Jallow and Key replaced Sueing and Diallo with 3:32 left.

*There, Brown replaced Ahrens and the Buckeyes went with a lineup of Brown, Jallow, Key, Walker and Washington for the remainder of the half. They let Ohio State take a 31-24 lead into the half.

*It was back to the starters to open the second half, and they would remain together for the first 5:44 but were outscored 11-7 before Jallow replaced Sueing with 14:16 to play and the lead down to 38-35.

*Cleveland State pulled within one point with this previously unused lineup on the court, but an Ahrens three-pointer made it 41-37 before Sotos and Key replaced Walker and young with 12:46 left. That lineup would take the game to the under-12 timeout with Cleveland State within two at 41-39 with 11:18 left. Here, Walker and Sueing returned in place of Ahrens and Washington.

*Here was the lineup that would finally provide Ohio State some breathing room. With Walker and Sotos at guard, Jallow and Sueing at forward and Key at center, Ohio State would outscore the Vikings 10-3 to push the lead to 51-42 with 7:11 to play before Ahrens replaced Sueing. It was the debut of that lineup, which logged 4:07 together.

*Young would replace Key with 6:34 to play, and then the freshman would return with 5:13 left. Washington didn’t return until the 4:11 mark, with Ohio State ahead 58-50.

*It was a 60-52 lead with 3:03 left when Holtmann went with a lineup of Walker, Washington, Jallow, Sueing and Key for the next 2:30. It allowed four points and scored two before Brown subbed in for Key with 33 seconds to play. That final lineup would match Cleveland State with five points each to set the final score at 67-61.

*The starting lineup played for 11:38, scored 15 points and allowed 15.

*The second-longest-used lineup consisted of Jallow, Key, Sueing, Walker and Washington. In 5:28, it was outscored 8-5.

*The best plus-minus belonged to the lineup of Jallow, Key, Sotos, Sueing and Walker, which was plus-7 (10 points scored, three allowed) in 4:07.

*In the Notre Dame game, 13 of the 15 lineups Ohio State used were brand new. In this game, 13 of the 16 lineups used were brand new. In all, Ohio State played previously used lineups for a total of 4:28, scoring seven points and allowing 10. Ahrens, Jallow and Sotos were in all three of those lineups.

*A lineup consisting of the four starters from this game but with Key in place of Ahrens did not play in this game but has three appearances this season. During the first three games, that lineup scored 14 points and allowed 12 in 5:43.

*Walker had the best individual plus-minus for the Buckeyes at plus-9.