On Thursday evening, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann told the Columbus Dispatch that senior point guard CJ Walker has a chance to play Saturday when Ohio State travels to Madison to take on the No. 10 Badgers. Walker allegedly injured his hand earlier this season but played through the pain, with an official announcement coming after the Buckeyes’ 77-60 loss to Minnesota on Jan. 3 that he would be out “indefinitely” while he gives his non-shooting hand time to heal.
“We’ll see how he does if he can return to practice and to what degree he feels confident in his hand,” Holtmann said. “I wouldn’t rule it out, but it’s going to depend on what he feels like his pain tolerance can be coming back.”
Stated earlier, the injury is to Walker’s non-shooting hand, as he is left-handed. Prior to the injury, he was averaging 8.7 points and 4.2 assists per game. He was shooting a paltry 30% from the floor, but that number plummeted as he continued to play through the injury. He is 42-of-43 from the free throw line this season.
Without Walker on the floor, Ohio State went 3-1, losing to Purdue at home but beating then-No. 14 Rutgers and No. 15 Illinois on the road while also exacting revenge on the Northwestern Wildcats in Columbus. During those games, Justice Sueing — normally a forward — served as the main ballhandler for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State, who averaged right around nine turnovers per game when Walker stepped away, committed 11, 11, 14, and 11 turnovers in their four games while he was unavailable. His absence combined with Jimmy Sotos’ injury (shoulder) has put the Buckeyes in a difficult spot at times, most clearly on Tuesday evening against Purdue.
The Boilermakers’ aggressive, in your face defense forced the Buckeyes to get rid of the ball quickly and limit extra dribbling. But with no floor general, Ohio State’s offense was not fluid and often struggled to create high-percentage shot attempts, especially in the paint, where they were outscored 36-8. While Walker’s offense has lagged this year, his basketball IQ and ability to distribute will be a much-needed boost for an Ohio State team trying to get over the hump and establish themselves as one of the Big Ten’s best.
Ohio State has not confirmed Walker’s return and likely will not until tipoff Saturday, however Walker posted this to his Instagram account Thursday evening, with the caption “I’M BACK ”
Ohio State men’s basketball’s official Instagram shared Walker’s post, essentially confirming that the fifth-year guard is returning. With Walker in the lineup Saturday, Justin Ahrens will likely return to the bench. He started the previous four games in Walker’s absence, scoring 38 points on 12-of-24 shooting. He scored in double-digits in each of the last three games, and should continue to see significant minutes off the bench.