Analysis: Ohio State relied heavily upon Jimmy Sotos, starters in win at Rutgers

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell (32) shoots over Rutgers center Myles Johnson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Piscataway, N.J. [Adam Hunger/Associated Press]

Already down its most-used player in CJ Walker, Ohio State went to Rutgers on Saturday and emerged with an 11-point win. Before the end of the game, the Buckeyes would also lose their primary replacement for Walker.

Here’s how the game unfolded and what lineups coach Chris Holtmann used to defeat the Scarlet Knights.

*Without Walker, the Buckeyes opened with four customary starters in Duane Washington Jr., Justice Sueing, E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young alongside Walker’s replacement, Jimmy Sotos. That lineup had played together before in just one game, when it outscored Notre Dame 4-2 in 1:15 back on December 8. After a loss at Minnesota that saw the Buckeyes use a season-high 27 different lineups, this one got out to a 16-11 lead during the first 6:29 of the game before Justin Ahrens and Zed Key replaced Washington and Liddell, respectively, at what would be the first media timeout.

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*This was a new lineup with Sotos and Ahrens at guard, Sueing and Liddell at forward and Young ostensibly at center. The game bogged down at both ends here, as this lineup was outscored 2-0 and the next lineup with Musa Jallow in place of Young played a scoreless 31 seconds.

*It was here, with 11:34 to play, that freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. made his debut, replacing Sotos at the under-12 media timeout with Ohio State ahead 16-13. He was the primary ball-handler in a lineup with Jallow, Ahrens, Sueing and Key. In the next 1:53, Rutgers outscored Ohio State 4-2 to pull within one at 18-17 when Holtmann made three substitutions with 9:41 to play.

*Johnson remained on the floor here in a line up with Seth Towns, Jallow, Washington and Liddell. But after a Caleb McConnell four-point play that gave Rutgers a 21-18 lead, Jallow and Johnson came out for Sotos and freshman Eugene Brown III with 9:13 left in the half.

*This was a new lineup. Together, Brown, Liddell, Sotos, Towns and Washington would allow Rutgers to build its lead to six points but then pull even at 26 during the next 2:54 while scoring eight points and allowing five.

*With 6:19 left in the half, a lineup of Brown, Liddell, Sotos, Washington and Young had a 7-0 run to take a 33-26 lead before Sueing returned to replace Brown with 4:55 to play.

*Johnson returned to the game with 4:25 to play and the lead at 33-26. He was in a lineup with Key, Sueing, Washington and Young that would play for the next 1:15, scoring and allowing two points before Sotos returned in place of Washington.

*The Buckeyes took a 42-30 lead into the break and came out with the same starters to open the second half. The opening minutes were crucial, as Rutgers figured to come out with greater physicality, but instead Holtmann rode his starters until the under-12 media timeout. In those first 8:01 of the half, they outscored the Scarlet Knights 15-11 to push the lead to 57-41 before Holtmann made wholesale changes with 11:59 to play.

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*Only Sotos remained, and he was joined by Ahrens, Jallow, Key and Towns, and in the next 1:25 they outscored Rutgers 6-2 to push the lead back to 20 points at 63-43 with 10:34 left when Washington replaced Sotos.

*The Buckeyes would start to turn the ball over as Rutgers pressed to get back into the game, and it came with Ohio State’s starters on the court. It was a 65-47 lead with 7:18 left when the starters were reunited, and when Ahrens replaced Washington with 4:09 to play the Scarlet Knights has pulled within 67-55 thanks to an 8-2 run during the span of 3:09.

*That lineup would last only 19 seconds before Sotos went out with a shoulder injury with 3:50 to play and the lead down to 67-57. Washington replaced him.

*This lineup of Ahrens, Liddell, Sueing, Washington and Young had only appeared in one other game, scoring three points and allowing two in 1:52 against Morehead State. Against Rutgers, it scored four and allowed two in 1:47 before Holtmann started to flip Ahrens and Jallow offense for defense.

*This continued until the final 15 seconds, when Johnson replaced Jallow and was on the court for the final seconds as Ohio State closed out the 79-68 win.

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*After seeing minimal playing time entering the game, the starting lineup totaled 19:06 of playing time. It scored 35 points and allowed 32. That’s the highest scoring output for a starting lineup this season.

*One game after using a season-high 27 different lineups, Holtmann used 19 against Rutgers, 13 of which were new. That latter number was directly affected by the debut of Johnson, who was in six of them.

*With Sotos’ status for Wednesday’s game against Northwestern uncertain and Walker still out, the lineup with the most minutes against Rutgers consisted of Ahrens, Jallow, Key, Towns and Washington. It played for 2:27, scored two points and allowed one.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy