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Ohio State's CJ Walker to miss Rutgers game, and maybe longer, with hand injury

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State guard CJ Walker is averaging 8.7 points and 2.8 rebounds this season, but his production has dropped off in recent games because of a right hand injury.

The Ohio State men's basketball team will be without senior guard CJ Walker for Saturday’s game at No. 15 Rutgers, and possibly longer, due to torn ligaments in his right hand.

The injury has hampered Walker all season. He told The Dispatch following Sunday’s loss at Minnesota that the injury occurred in mid-November during the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage but declined to specify the nature of the injury.

More:Analysis: Ohio State substitutions at a season-high in Minnesota loss

It's not immediately clear how long Walker will be sidelined.

"There’s no timeline for when he’ll return," coach Chris Holtmann said. "It’s hard to get specifics on that. We’ll see how long this healing process, if it does heal, and how long it will take or get to the point where he’s comfortable playing."

Walker averaged 8.7 points and 3.5 assists last season, but those numbers took an upward swing once freshman DJ Carton stepped away from the team and the veteran assumed full ownership of the point guard position. In those final 11 games, Walker scored in double figures seven times and averaged 12.2 points and 4.6 assists, production that carried over into the first five games of the 2020-21 season.

He opened the season scoring in double figures in each of those games, averaging 13.2 points and 4.0 assists leading into the Purdue game. Since then, though, the production has waned and the questions about his effectiveness has grown, leading Holtmann to publicly mention the injury on a few occasions.

Walker is playing a team-high 31.5 minutes per game. He’s averaging 8.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game while shooting 30.1% (25 for 83) from the floor, 20.0% (4 for 20) from three and 97.7% (42 for 43) from the free-throw line. His 4.2 assists per game ranks 10th in the Big Ten, and he is tied for 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.1.

“We’re going to build a plan for me to get better,” Walker said after he missed all five field-goal attempts and finished with two points, two assists and one rebound in 23 minutes against Minnesota. “Things will get better eventually. I’m going to take care of it each and every day.”

Walker’s absence deals a critical blow to a position already short on bodies. It leaves two true guards with experience on the roster, junior Duane Washington Jr. and Bucknell senior transfer Jimmy Sotos. Washington has primarily played at shooting guard but has handled point guard responsibilities during each of the last two seasons. He is also the team’s leading scorer this year. Sotos has been a backup this season at both spots and has not logged many significant minutes.

Washington is averaging 14.9 points and has taken a team-high 135 shots. Sotos has played in all 11 games and started in a road loss to Purdue when Holtmann briefly benched Walker and fellow senior Kyle Young, but he is averaging only 7.9 minutes per game and has scored 14 points (1.3 per game).

Both will see their responsibilities change. So, too, will Justice Sueing, who could assume some ball-handling duties. It’s the second injury to affect the position after Utah State graduate transfer Abel Porter had his career ended when Ohio State’s medical staff discovered a life-threatening heart condition during the preseason.

It also means the Buckeyes will see if freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. is ready for his debut. A four-star point guard prospect from Garfield Heights, Johnson graduated high school a year early, reclassified to the 2020 recruiting class and joined the Buckeyes in mid-December.

Since then, he has been going through testing protocols and trying to acclimate to the Division I level after missing his entire junior season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Johnson started participating in Ohio State practices earlier this week.

"He’s been on schedule and on schedule now is he’s been implemented to full practices," Holtmann said of Johnson. "I'm not ruling him out of playing on Saturday."

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy