Ohio State’s Bruce Thornton returning, Meechie Johnson rejoining Buckeyes: Why it’s a big boost


Ohio State received multiple pieces of good news Tuesday, as star point guard Bruce Thornton announced he would return to the Buckeyes for his junior season and Meechie Johnson said he would transfer back to Ohio State for his last year of college basketball.

Thornton wrote in a post on social media Tuesday, “Buckeye nation, I’m coming back.” As a sophomore last season, he led Ohio State in points (15.7), assists (4.8) and steals per game (1.2).

Johnson — a 6-foot-2, 184 guard — also announced his decision on social media, writing, “I’m coming home.” He ranked No. 25 in The Athletic’s college basketball transfer portal rankings.

Johnson, who went to high school in Garfield Heights, Ohio, played his first two years of college basketball at Ohio State before transferring to South Carolina, where he spent the last two seasons. He struggled to find playing time at Ohio State, but blossomed into a quality high-major starting point guard at South Carolina.

This past season, he took another solid step forward, averaging 14.1 points, four rebounds and three assists per game in the Gamecocks’ breakout season under Lamont Paris. Now he’s expected to play his fifth season at Ohio State alongside Thornton, giving the Buckeyes a major boost for next year.

Johnson’s scouting report

Johnson is an aggressive, attack-oriented guard who can play on or off the ball. He shared lead ballhandling responsibilities with Ta’Lon Cooper, serving as more of a scorer than a distributor. He generated offense primarily through a combination of ball screens and spot ups, though he was also the Gamecocks’ main option when sets broke down late in the shot clock.

While Johnson generally knocks down his catch-and-shoot attempts when open and can get medium-percentage looks when necessary, I don’t think he can consistently create high-efficiency shots on his own. Johnson finished just 48.1 percent of his attempts at the rim and made just 26.2 percent of his pull-up 3s. He’d be better served as an off-ball player who uses the threat of his jumper to attack closeouts and get into the teeth of the defense.

Johnson is undeniably a high-major starter who can help any number of teams. He’s proven to be an experienced, steady older hand and has played in a lot of tough games in the SEC. He may even make another all-conference team. But he has enough flaws to where his new team can’t expect its offense to thrive if he’s the main cog. — Sam Vecenie, college basketball senior writer

What this means for Ohio State

Who says you can’t go home again? Johnson started his career at Ohio State and now will be returning to finish it after a two-year sabbatical at South Carolina. With the news that Thornton will return coming in conjunction with Johnson’s commitment, Ohio State has a chance to field the best backcourt in the Big Ten next year.

Thornton was unlucky to miss out on an All-Big Ten berth. He’s more of a pure point guard, whereas Johnson can slide in off the ball as more of a scoring guard and do what he does best as a shooter and straight-line driver.

The Buckeyes do need to replace the departing Scotty Middleton, something that is even more important now given that Ohio State’s backcourt figures to be a bit small with Thornton, Johnson and Roddy Gayle (assuming Gayle returns). Middleton brought some size and on-ball defensive potential to the equation. That’s something Ohio State will need to find in the portal if they’re going to make a run next season.

But all told, Ohio State is shaping up as a genuine potential preseason top-25 team in Jake Diebler’s first full year in charge. Thornton, Johnson, Gayle, and returning starting center Felix Okpara give the team a four-man upperclass starting five that will be extremely talented on the offensive end. — Vecenie

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(Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski / USA Today)

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