Ohio State’s pair of point guards ran the show Wednesday night against No. 10 Villanova.
Redshirt junior CJ Walker and freshman D.J. Carton combined for 12 assists while each scoring in double digits to lead the Buckeyes to a rout over the Wildcats, 76-51.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann utilized lineups featuring Walker and Carton together for long stretches in both halves, and both players got the ball in the paint and found open teammates.
“They’re more instinctive about [getting inside]. They’re more intentional,” Holtmann said. “CJ is more intentional. He’s a little bulldog. Sometimes he gets too deep, but I thought he played really well and got paint touches, and I thought we played unselfish offensively with the lead.”
Walker started the game with two assists to sophomore guard Duane Washington for a pair of triples, then hit a long-range shot of his own to push the score to 9-0 less than two minutes into the game.
“We went into the game and [Washington] was feeling it. I mean, you gotta feed the hot hand and give him the ball in his spots,” Walker said. “So he kind of carried us through the first four minutes of the game and set the tone from there.”
Carton showcased his ability to get to the rim at ease, and had an array of dazzling ball-handling moves to create open jumpshots for himself.
Carton said the Buckeyes came in knowing Villanova’s plan of attack on defense, and they were prepared to get to the basket. Ohio State outscored Villanova in the paint, 36-18.
“We knew they were going to switch a lot, so we’d have some mismatches, and we used our speed and get to the rim and make plays,” Carton said. “The guards did a very good job of that, and we’re able to make plays for other players and get into the paint.”
Once the paint opened up, Walker and Carton showed patience to find open shooters and cutters. The Buckeyes had 18 assists on 30 made field goals, and knocked down 9-of-16 attempts from beyond the arc.
“It just puts pressure on the defense when you got two or three guards on the floor that can get to the rim, and it kind of helps our offense,” Walker said. “It frees up [junior forward Kaleb Wesson] and things like that, to be able to get post touches, paint touches, be able to get the inside-out 3s, like Duane for example.”
Villanova head coach Jay Wright said the two guards’ ability to find the open man and open up the court was something that made Ohio State’s offense dangerous.
“I like those guys a lot. I think they’ve got a real good combo there, in guys that can play together,” Wright said. “When they want to play big you can play one of them at the point. I think both of them make great decisions on driving and recognizing scoring opportunities but also not being selfish about it. Finding other people –– I really like that combo there.”
Both Walker and Carton had their fair share of highlight plays against the Wildcat defense. With the Buckeyes leading 58-32 and the crowd thinning, Carton hammered a lefty dunk home after cutting backdoor.
“I knew we needed a big play, and it was a good play call by coach, first of all, a great pass by my boy [junior forward Kyle Young], and he just put me in a great situation to make a play,” Carton said.
With the outcome largely decided, Walker ended things with a pair of alley-oop passes to freshman forward Alonzo Gaffney for back-to-back crowd-pleasing dunks.
Walker said the opponent and crowd at the Schottenstein Center helped Ohio State come out ready to play.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Walker said. “They’re a top 10 team for a reason. Villanova’s a really great team that has really great players and a coaching staff, so we knew it was going to be a really good game behind the students. It was a great environment to play in.”
After the dominant performance, both guards said the Buckeyes came out with a chip on their shoulder.
“I feel like we found out that we’re very hungry,” Carton said. “We’ve been very hungry all season long, and I think we have things to prove. We got a lot of things to learn, a lot of things to build upon, but I feel like we’re playing pretty good basketball right now and we’re playing together as a unit.”