Men’s Basketball: Johnson’s injury plagues Buckeyes’ 3-point shooting, will wear mask upon return

The Lantern
Ohio State freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. (0) dribbles the ball during the Ohio State-Wisconsin game Dec. 11, 2021. Ohio State won 73-55. Credit: Gabe Haferman | Assistant Photo Editor

No. 16 Ohio State has been without the efforts of freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. for the past three games due to a facial fracture and concussion.

In that time, the Buckeyes lost to then-No. 13 Wisconsin, fended off a Penn State team and destroyed IUPUI. Johnson’s absence has proven detrimental for Ohio State, but he could return with a new persona.

“He is going to wear a mask,” head coach Chris Holtmann said on 97.1 The Fan Monday. “He looks like a villain, which actually I like about that. I like it, it gives him a nastiness to him.”

His efforts from behind the 3-point line when he returns could mean danger for the opposition.

The Buckeyes are still reeling from their recent inability to knock down shots from deep as they are trying to put their combined 6-for-31 from 3-point range against  Wisconsin and Penn State in the rearview mirror.

Ohio State righted the ship against IUPUI — with its 47.8 3-point shooting percentage good for its second-highest clip of the season. However, if graduate guard Cedric Russell doesn’t shoot 4-for-5 from 3-point range against the Jaguars, then that mark drops to 38.9 percent, which is slightly above the season average.

Johnson has made only 28 field goals in the 2021-22 campaign, but a whopping 20 of them have come from beyond the arc.

The Cleveland native’s 40 percent from downtown this season is the best on the Buckeyes for anyone with more than 30 attempts — Russell’s 51.9 percent and graduate guard Jimmy Sotos’ 57.1 percent are the only two with higher 3-point percentages with 27 and seven attempts, respectively.

Despite only being a freshman and in just his second year with the program, Johnson never shies away from the moment when the lights shine the brightest.

His game-winning 3-point shot against Seton Hall, a 3-pointer that gave the Buckeyes a six-point lead in their overtime win against Nebraska and a make from downtown against Penn State to kill a Nittany Lions’ second-half 10-2 run immediately come to mind when thinking of Johnson’s ability to make a shot when needed.

Another aspect of Johnson’s game that Ohio State has missed is his pace of play. This can lead to Johnson committing turnovers, but also serving as a spark plug for the Buckeyes’ offense.

“One of the things we work on, we really work on in the offseason and we work on throughout the course of the year, is playing at different speeds,” assistant coach Jake Diebler said Dec. 7, 2021. “I think Meechie’s made really good strides. He’s a student of the game, loves to watch film, spends time in the gym. I think there’s going to be moments it’s going to look like this year he’s mastered it. Then, there’s moments it might not look that way.”

Johnson’s fast-paced tempo at the top of the offense could’ve helped the Buckeyes lengthen the margin of victory against Penn State during their second meeting in Columbus, in which Ohio State only won by five. The Nittany Lions rank 347th in Division I in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo , so Johnson’s speed and tenacity on both ends of the floor could’ve helped the Buckeyes get Penn State out of its comfort zone.

Before Johnson’s exit, the Buckeyes were shooting 39.2 percent on 3-pointers, and in the three games without him they are making only 31.5 percent of their 3-point balls.

Johnson’s return and ability to shoot the 3-pointer will be crucial for Ohio State’s success down the stretch. Its remaining nine opponents are all top 10 teams in the Big Ten in opponent 3-point percentage.

Like the concern with many other Buckeyes after the three-game COVID-19 cancellation stretch, Holtmann is worried about how the mask will affect Johnson when he returns.

“I think it affects his breathing as much as anything,” Holtmann said. “We haven’t had a chance to really play, get up and down enough to see how it’s going to affect his vision.”

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