An Ohio State team that’s been no stranger to injury and illness is still coming to grips with another temporary loss. Tuesday night, the No. 19 Buckeyes will host IUPUI in what will be their third game without second-year guard Meechie Johnson Jr.
One week prior to this game, Johnson collided with fellow guard Cedric Russell during a rebounding drill and suffered an undisclosed facial injury. Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said on Monday’s radio show that Johnson is essentially day to day right now, but he won’t be able to play a game until he can make it through a full practice. Right now, he’s not cleared for any physical activity, and it might be at least a two-week period from the date of the injury until Johnson is able to return to games for Ohio State.
Through the first 13 games this season, Johnson has averaged 6.6 points and 1.6 rebounds while shooting 40.0% (20 for 50) from 3-point range. He started the season opener, hit the game-winner against Seton Hall and has averaged 19.7 minutes per game. Johnson has been the first substitute off the bench in four games.
It’s the latest loss for a team still without Justice Sueing (abdominal injury) and Seth Towns (back surgery), both of whom are making progress in their returns to the court but have not been given a concrete date of return yet. But without Johnson, the Buckeyes are 1-1 while adjusting their rotations to compensate for a player who has been a key member of the rotation.
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Here’s a look at how they’ve tried to fill the void.
Gene Brown’s minutes have increased
Against Penn State on Sunday, Brown’s six points in 17:51 helped the Buckeyes keep the Nittany Lions at bay. That came after he played 12:44 off the bench in last Thursday’s loss at Wisconsin, a game where he had a rebound and four fouls while going scoreless.
His average of 15.0 minutes played during the last two games is a marked increase from his 9.7 minutes-per-game average while Johnson was healthy. It’s also the biggest minutes increase on the roster in Johnson’s absence.
Ohio State has used 16 new lineups during the last two games. Brown has been part of nine of them.
What has been Ohio State’s best lineup without Meechie Johnson?
It also features Brown.
Against Penn State, a lineup of Jamari Wheeler and Malaki Branham in the backcourt, Brown at the 3 and E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young down low outscored the Nittany Lions 13-4 (plus-9) in only 3:54. It was the best plus-minus of any of Holtmann’s 16 different lineups used in that game.
In the 10-point loss at Wisconsin three days prior, this same lineup was plus-6 (15 points scored, 9 allowed) in 5:15. That was the second-best mark for the Buckeyes in the game, and the plus-15 mark across the last two games is Ohio State’s best.
Which lineup featuring Meechie Johnson has been Ohio State’s best?
In 20:08 of playing time, a lineup with Wheeler, Justin Ahrens, Johnson, Liddell and Young is plus-18 (51 points scored, 33 allowed). That same lineup with Branham in place of Johnson is plus-13 (117 points scored, 104 allowed) in 63:45 and is the second-most used lineup this season. During the last two games, it is minus-6 (16 points scored, 22 allowed) in 13:41.
That aforementioned lineup is just behind the most-used lineup featuring Johnson. That lineup consists of Johnson, Wheeler, Ahrens, Liddell and Zed Key, and in 20:34 it has both scored and allowed 34 points. Brown replaced Johnson in that lineup against Penn State and it was outscored 14-11 in 5:05.
Cedric Russell has seen his minutes decrease
Through the first five games of Big Ten play, Louisiana graduate transfer guard Cedric Russell had averaged 12.4 minutes. He topped out at 19 minutes in a lopsided Dec. 11 home win against Wisconsin but only got off the bench for four minutes in a decisive loss at Indiana on Jan. 6.
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Without Johnson, Russell has averaged 11.0 minutes per game but only scored two points. He took one shot against Penn State and did not score.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Here's what Ohio State has done without Meechie Johnson Jr.