Without Kyle Young, how did Ohio State alter its lineups to beat Nebraska?

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State was guaranteed to come into Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday night with a few different looks. A 22-day layoff due to a COVID-19 outbreak all but assured that coach Chris Holtmann was going to have to look at a few different lineups and combinations to combat rustiness and fatigue against a Cornhusker team that plays with the fastest tempo in the Big Ten according to KenPom.com.

Those plans were further altered with the absence of Kyle Young. Although more than half the roster dealt with the virus and subsequent 10-day quarantine, Young missed the game with what was described as a non-COVID illness. He is expected to return for Thursday’s game at Indiana.

With all of that said, the Buckeyes rallied from a two-possession deficit in the final 30 seconds, forced overtime and emerged with an 87-79 win. Ohio State will take a five-game winning streak and, presumably, the same roster it had prior to the COVID pause to Indiana.

Here’s how the Nebraska game played out.

E.J. Liddell, Malaki Branham lead Ohio State’s starters

*For a fifth straight game and the eighth time this season, Holtmann went with a starting lineup of Justin Ahrens, Malaki Branham, Zed Key, E.J. Liddell and Jamari Wheeler. That lineup entered the game at plus-20 (122 points scored, 102 allowed) in 61:38 this season but was minus-2 (26 points scored, 28 allowed) in 14:27 of Big Ten play. The last time out, it scored and allowed 12 points in 7:40 against Wisconsin.

*Here, it outscored Nebraska 11-4 in the first 5:36 to open the game before Meechie Johnson and Gene Brown replaced Branham and Liddell at the first media timeout with 14:24 to play. The Cornhuskers pulled within 11-6 in the next 1:24 before Joey Brunk made his first appearance of the game with 13:00 to play.

*Cedric Russell made his first appearance with 12:26 to play in the first half and the Buckeyes ahead 12-6. He was part of a lineup alongside Johnson, Branham, Liddell and Brunk, and Nebraska outscored Ohio State 4-2 in the next 2:24 to pull within 14-10 with 10:02 to play.

*The offense on both ends would pick up here. A lineup of Russell, Branham, Key, Liddell and Wheeler would score 13 points and allow 12 in the next 4:46, giving the Buckeyes a 27-22 lead with 5:16 to play when Johnson and Ahrens replaced Russell and Key. That stretch of playing time was longer than this line up had seen all season entering the game (4:14).

*Nebraska would counter momentarily with a 10-0 run against three different lineups. First, this lineup of Johnson, Ahrens, Branham, Liddell and Wheeler pushed the lead to eight points on a Branham 3-pointer, but Derrick Walker scored in the paint to start the run before Key replaced Wheeler with 3:33 left. That lineup of three guards, Ahrens at the 4 and Liddell at the 5 was making its season debut.

*Now within 30-24 with 3:33 left in the half, the Cornhuskers outscored a lineup of Johnson, Ahrens, Branham, Key and Liddell 6-0 in the next 1:37 to pull even at 30 before Russell replaced Ahrens with 1:56 left.

*With 1:24 left and Nebraska ahead 32-30, Jimmy Sotos made his first appearance in place of Johnson. Ohio State outscored Nebraska 4-0 to close the half and take a 34-32 lead. This lineup of Sotos, Russell, Branham, Key and Liddell had only made one appearance this season and was outscored 7-2 in 1:39 against Seton Hall.

After late run, Buckeyes stick with starters for second half against Cornhuskers

*It was back to the starters for the start of the second half, and in the first 3:42 they outscored Nebraska 8-7 to push the lead to 42-39 with 16:18 left when Brown replaced Key.

*A new lineup of Johnson and Sotos in the backcourt, Brown and Ahrens on the wings and Key at center entered with 14:22 left and the lead at 44-42. It was outscored 4-3 in the next 1:29 before Branham replaced Ahrens.

*This amounted to four guards (Johnson, Sotos, Branham and Brown) and one true post player (Key), and it outscored Nebraska 4-0 on two quick assists from Sotos to build a 51-46 lead with 12:18 left before Nebraska called timeout. This was a new lineup.

*Here, the Buckeyes went with a lineup of Johnson, Sotos, Branham, Key and Liddell. It would build the lead back to eight points, but Nebraska would mount another comeback too. In the next 4:59, this lineup was outscored 15-11 as Nebraska briefly regained the lead.

*With 7:19 left and Ohio State ahead 62-61, Russell and Wheeler replaced Sotos and Johnson. Twenty-five seconds later, Brunk replaced Key. This lineup of Russell, Branham, Liddell, Brunk and Wheeler was outscored 4-0 in the next 1:36 as Nebraska took a 65-62 lead.

*With 3:59 to play and Nebraska ahead 66-63, Holtmann went with his starters. They scored seven points and allowed six and were down 72-67 with less than 30 seconds left when Wheeler hit a 3-pointer and the Buckeyes called a timeout with 28 seconds remaining.

*Needing to foul to stop the clock, Brown and Johnson replaced Ahrens and Key. Johnson committed the foul, and with 22.4 seconds left it was back to the starters for the final offensive possession. They would get two Liddell free throws with 8.9 seconds left, and Brown would replace Ahrens after he hit the first for defensive purposes.

Meechie Johnson replaces Justin Ahrens to start overtime

*The usual starting lineup had one change this time with Johnson replacing Ahrens. This lineup hadn’t appeared together all game and had totaled a combined 2:34 of playing time in three appearances this season, scoring no points and allowing one.

*In the first 3:23 of overtime, it outscored Nebraska 9-4 to build a lead Ohio State wouldn’t give up.

*Johnson, Liddell, Branham and Wheeler all played the entirety of overtime.

How did the Buckeyes replace Kyle Young?

*The starting lineup outscored Nebraska 26-17 in 12:51, its best performance since it outscored Bowling Green by 12 points and its most playing time of the season.

*Without Young, Liddell manned the center position without either Key or Brunk on the court for 5:22. Spread across three lineups, the Buckeyes outscored the Cornhuskers 10-6 during this time.

*Key played as the sole post player in four different lineups. Ohio State outscored Nebraska 8-7 in 4:27 in these cases.

*With lineups that amounted to four guards and one true post player, Ohio State outscored Nebraska 18-13 in 9:49. These lineups almost assuredly would’ve featured Young in most, if not all, cases.

*The lineup of Johnson, Branham, Key, Liddell and Wheeler had a team-best 2.2500 points per possession. It outscored Nebraska 9-4 in 3:23.

*Wheeler led the Buckeyes with an individual plus-minus of plus-14. He’s one of four Buckeyes to lead the team in this category twice, joining Ahrens, Key and Young.