Analysis: How Ohio State beat Illinois and what it means for the Purdue game

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Jan 16, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes forward Justin Ahrens (10) hits a three point shot during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at the State Farm Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

When No. 15 Ohio State hosts Purdue on Tuesday night at Value City Arena, it will again be without fifth-year senior point guard CJ Walker. Monday, coach Chris Holtmann announced that Walker would be evaluated Tuesday as he recovers from torn ligaments in his right hand but that he would not be playing in the rematch against the Boilermakers.

That will mark the fourth game Ohio State has played without Walker, and it could be the third straight without primary backup Jimmy Sotos, who remains day-to-day with a right shoulder injury suffered in the first game without Walker, a road win against Rutgers on January 9.

Saturday, the Buckeyes won their third straight game when they held off No. 14 Illinois 87-81 at the State Farm Center. Here’s how they did it, and what lessons from the first Purdue game – if any – could be applicable this time around.

Starting lineup not together long

For a second straight game, Holtmann went with a starting lineup of Justin Ahrens, E.J. Liddell, Justice Sueing, Duane Washington Jr. and Kyle Young with Sueing at the point. In the Northwestern win, this lineup logged 16:20 and outscored the Wildcats 36-30. Against Illinois, it played until the under-16 media timeout at 15:09 and held a 10-8 lead when Zed Key and Seth Towns replaced Liddell and Young.

Ohio State hoops:'Don't flinch': Justin Ahrens buries key threes for Ohio State in Illinois win

This lineup of Ahrens, Key, Sueing, Towns and Washington had played a total of 59 seconds together this season, but for the next 2:40 it kept pace with the Illini, scoring and allowing seven points before Holtmann made three substitutions with the lead at 17-15 and 12:29 to play in the half.

New lineups built momentum

This brand-new lineup of Eugene Brown, Meechie Johnson Jr., Liddell, Sueing and Towns got a jumper from Towns and a three-pointer from Johnson for a 5-0 spurt in only 1:28 before Young came in for Towns with 11:01 to play and the lead at 22-15. This run came with Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn both on the court.

That lineup got five points from Liddell in the next 49 seconds to build the lead to 27-15 before Illinois called timeout with 10:12 left in the half. Musa Jallow and Washington replaced Brown and Sueing for a third straight brand-new lineup, and in 55 seconds it got a Liddell three-pointer to stretch the lead to 30-15. Of that 15-0 run, the final 13 points were scored by brand-new Ohio State lineups.

From 12:29-6:39, Ohio State used brand-new lineups and turned a 17-15 lead into a 34-19 one – a 17-4 run.

At the 6:39 mark, Ahrens replaced Johnson, joining Jallow, Key, Towns and Washington. In the next 1:14, it pushed the lead to a game-high 18 points with a Towns three before Sueing came in for Jallow with 5:25 left and Ohio State ahead 37-19.

With 4:43 left and the lead still at 37-19, Ohio State used a lineup of Ahrens, Liddell, Sueing, Towns and Washington and for the next 2:50 it scored two and allowed six as Illinois pulled within 39-25 before Holtmann made three substitutions with 1:53 left in the half.

Here, the Buckeyes went with a lineup of Ahrens, Johnson, Key, Sueing and Young. It was a new lineup, and it would be broken up with 34 seconds left after Ahrens fouled Adam Miller on a three-pointer. He hit all three free throws to make it a 41-28 Ohio State lead.

Ahrens came out, as did Young for the final offensive possession of the half. Holtmann went with a new lineup of Brown, Johnson, Key, Sueing and Washington, and it executed a play for a Washington layup with six seconds left and closed the half with Ohio State ahead 43-28.

Starting lineup not so sharp at start of second half

It was back to the starters to open the second half. After their opening shift, they didn’t appear together again during the first half. They played the first 3:20 of the second but were outscored 10-5 as Illinois pulled within 48-38 and Key replaced Liddell with 16:40 left in the game.

That lineup lasted for 34 seconds and got a Washington layup before Key turned the ball over and committed a foul, bringing Liddell back in with 16:06 left and the lead at 50-38.

Sueing would come out with 15:20 left and Ohio State leading 50-41. He was replaced by Johnson in a lineup with Ahrens, Liddell, Washington and Young. In what would become a theme for this half, it wouldn’t be a long shift, as this lineup was on the court for 1:20 and traded buckets before Towns replaced Young with 14 minutes to play.

Ahrens would pick up his fourth foul seven seconds later and was replaced by Sueing as the Illini were within 52-46, and this new lineup of Johnson, Liddell, Sueing, Towns and Washington would log 1:56, score four points and allow two before Key replaced Liddell with 11:57 to play and Ohio State now ahead 56-48. Liddell subbed out after Washington’s flagrant foul on Cockburn and the subsequent two missed free throws.

Key drew a charge on Cockburn five seconds later, and Ahrens checked back in for Washington and immediately hit a three-pointer to push the lead back to 11. This new lineup of Ahrens, Johnson, Key, Sueing and Towns put together a 6-0 run in 70 seconds to push the lead to 62-48 with 10:31 left.

With 8:23 left, the lineup of Ahrens, Johnson, Key, Sueing and Young took a 64-50 lead and lasted until 6:36 and Illinois was within 69-57, scoring five points and allowing seven.

Going back to the starters

Here, the Buckeyes went with their starters to close the game out, and they would remain on the court until Jallow replaced Ahrens with 2:28 to play and the lead at 77-67. They were outscored 10-8 during 4:08.

Ahrens and Jallow would be subbed offense for defense, with Jallow playing for 58 seconds as the 77-67 lead was trimmed to 77-72 and Ahrens returned with 1:30 to play. That brought the starters back onto the court, and they scored two and allowed two before Key replaced Liddell with 47 seconds left and the lead at 79-74.

Ahrens fouled out with 27 seconds left and was replaced by Johnson, playing only his third game, with the lead at 81-78. Liddell also came in for Key here. Washington hit two free throws in the next four seconds to make it 83-78 when Jallow replaced Johnson and Key replaced Liddell with 23 seconds left.

Miller hit a three against the lineup of Jallow, Key, Sueing, Washington and Young before the Buckeyes called timeout with 15 seconds left and the lead trimmed to 83-81.

Kyle Young's importance

Back with the lineup of Johnson, Liddell, Sueing, Washington and Young, Washington nearly stepped out of bounds (might have stepped out of bounds) but was then fouled and hit both free throws to push it back to a two-possession game with 13 seconds left when Jallow came in for Johnson for the final substitution of the night and Jallow’s free throws with two seconds left set the final at 87-81.

Ohio State used nine lineups in the final 1:30 of the game as a 77-72 lead became an 87-81 win.

In 13:49, Ohio State’s starters were outscored 33-27. In Big Ten play, that lineup is minus-2 (67 points scored, 69 allowed) in 32:30. All but 2:21 of that is in the last two games, where it has scored and allowed 63 points.

Ohio State used 21 different lineups in this game, tied for second-most in a game this season.

Young leads the team in individual plus-minus for the season at plus-120 and in Big Ten play at plus-49.

In the first game against Purdue, a 67-60 loss on December 16, the lineup of Ahrens, Key, Sueing, Walker and Washington went scoreless and allowed 12 points in 3:23. It’s the only time that lineup has played together this season.

There is no lineup from that game without Walker that had a positive plus-minus rating.