Analysis: How Ohio State hoops integrated CJ Walker and won at Wisconsin

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State's Kyle Young shoots over Wisconsin's Aleem Ford during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Four days removed from a two-point home loss to Purdue, Ohio State went to Wisconsin and emerged Saturday with a 74-62 win against the Badgers. The game marked the return of senior guard CJ Walker, who had missed the previous four games with torn ligaments in his right hand.

Consistent starting lineup

Walker would come off the bench as coach Chris Holtmann stuck with the same starting lineup for a fourth straight game. Here’s how it all unfolded.

That lineup consisted of Justice Sueing, Duane Washington Jr., Justin Ahrens, E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young. In the three prior games, this lineup was plus-10 (96 points scored, 86 allowed) in 37:22. Against the Badgers, they got rolling early and held a 9-3 lead when Zed Key replaced Liddell with 16:15 left in the half.

Walker made his return with 15:59 left in the half, replacing Washington with the lead still at 9-3.

Seth Towns, E.J. Liddell highlight new lineup

Washington and Walker, Ohio State’s two primary guards until the injury, first took the court together with 14:35 left in the half as part of a lineup that also included Eugene Brown, Key and Young. In the next 1:34, they were outscored 2-0 before Seth Towns and Liddell replaced Key and Young with 13:01 left and Ohio State ahead 11-5.

This was a brand-new lineup, and in the next 1:26 it scored and allowed four points before a pair of substitutions with 11:35 left and the lead at 15-9.

Ohio State men's basketball:BuckeyeXtra Basketball podcast | Discussing the 74-62 victory over Wisconsin, CJ Walker

Walker took a break here, and the Buckeyes went with a lineup of Ahrens, Liddell, Sueing, Towns and Washington, and they put together a 9-4 run to grow the lead to 24-13 with 8:04 left in the half.

With 7:26 left and Ohio State still ahead 24-13, the Buckeyes came out of the media timeout with a lineup of Ahrens, Liddell, Sueing, Walker and Young. For the next 2:32, it scored three and allowed four points until Washington replaced Liddell with 4:54 left and the lead at 27-17.

Meechie Johnson Jr. enters the game

Freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. checked in with 3:13 left in the half and the lead at 27-19 as part of a lineup that also included Brown, Liddell, Towns and Washington. For the next 1:27, it scored three points and allowed one before Young replaced Liddell with 1:46 left and Ohio State ahead 30-20.

This new lineup of Brown, Johnson, Towns, Washington and Young was outscored 5-2 in 1:28 before the Buckeyes called timeout with 18 seconds left and swapped Ahrens for Brown for the final offensive possession, which ended with Washington having his shot blocked to set the halftime score at 32-25.

Starters back to open second half

It was back to the starters to open the second half, and they got some pretty good run. During the first 5:18, Ohio State outscored Wisconsin 14-10 to build a 46-35 lead with 14:42 at the media timeout.

Walker subbed in here, and he would remain on the court for the remainder of the game. In the next 2:20, a brand-new lineup of Ahrens, Liddell, Towns, Walker and Washington scored five points and allowed seven before two more substitutions with 12:22 left and the lead at 51-42.

The next lineup to see any significant action consisted of Liddell, Sueing, Towns, Walker and Washington. This group took the court with 9:45 and the lead at 55-47 and added a Towns layup to push it back to a 10-point lead when Young replaced Towns at the media timeout with 7:28 left.

Ohio State men's basketball:Surprisingly elite offensively, Ohio State working on its defense in Big Ten play

This was the first appearance of the starting lineup from the opening game. Liddell, Sueing, Walker, Washington and Young started nine of the first 11 games together, with the only exception being the two games Liddell missed due to mononucleosis, having scored 173 points and allowed 136 (plus-37) in 92:25. In Big Ten play, the lineup was minus-8 (50 points scored, 58 allowed) in 35:35. Here, in the next 3:07, it scored five points and allowed 11 as Wisconsin pulled within four points at 62-58 with 4:21 left.

Justin Ahrens rejoins the mix

After a Sueing turnover, Ahrens replaced him, putting him on the court with Liddell, Walker, Washington and Young. This lineup hadn’t played together all game and had logged only 3:42 in Big Ten play entering the game, but for the next 3:38 it scored seven points and allowed four while building the lead back to 69-62 with 43 seconds left when Holtmann started to go offense-defense with his substitutions.

Brown would replace Ahrens with 43 seconds left, then Ahrens would replace him with 25 seconds left and Brown would check back in with 25 seconds left to close out the 74-62 win.

Evaluating the Buckeyes' different looks

Seven of Ohio State’s 21 lineups were brand new.

Ohio State’s best lineup was its starters, which were plus-10 (23 points scored, 13 allowed) in 9:03.

Walker’s lineups were most effective when they also included Ahrens and Washington. Those three were on the court together for 5:58, scoring 13 points and allowing 11. In fewer minutes, Walker, Brown and Washington scored eight points and allowed six in 4:17.

When Walker, Washington and Sueing were on the court together, Ohio State was outscored 11-7 in 6:31.

Ahrens led the team in individual plus-minus for a second time this season at plus-19. Liddell and Walker are tied for the team lead with three.

*Young leads the team in season plus-minus (plus-135) and conference plus-minus (plus-64).