EJ Liddell scored a career-high 34 points in 34 minutes of action in leading No. 13 Ohio State (10-3, 4-1) to a 95-87 win over Northwestern (8-5, 1-3) Sunday night at Value City Arena. Freshman guard Malaki Branham added 24 points, making 13 of his 14 free throw attempts on the evening. The Buckeyes shot 29-of-51 (.569) from the field.
Northwestern had three players score 20 points or more, led by guard Ty Perry’s 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Guard Chase Audige and forward Pete Nance both added 20 for the Wildcats.
Ohio State was without head coach Chris Holtmann and assistant coach Ryan Pedon, who were both out due to health and safety protocols. Assistant Jake Diebler was at the helm for the Buckeyes.
EJ Liddell opened the game by scoring 17 of Ohio State’s first 19 points, giving the Buckeyes a 19-11 lead just five minutes into the game. Back-to-back threes by Malaki Branham and Meechie Johnson a few minutes later built that lead to 29-14. Northwestern was able to cut it back to seven points eventually, but the Buckeyes built it back up and led by 10-12 points for most of the rest of the first half.
Ohio State held a 51-39 halftime lead after shooting 18-of-27 (.667) from the field and 9-of-16 (.563) from three-point territory.
The second half was a bit more interesting, as the Wildcats opened with a 12-4 run to get the lead down to just four points following an offensive burst from guard Ty Berry. The Buckeyes built the lead back up to 13 points with under six minutes to play, but Northwestern wouldn’t go away. Over a span of two minutes, NU went on a 9-2 run, capped by a Boo Bouie layup to make it 84-78 OSU with just 3:18 remaining.
That would be as close as Northwestern would end up getting, however, as the Buckeyes made 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch to keep the Wildcats at bay.
Ohio State point guard Jamari Wheeler had an outstanding night, scoring eight points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing out six assists, and coming away with five steals.
No Lid For Liddell
EJ Liddell came into this game struggling to shoot over the Buckeyes’ previous two games. In those two games he scored 21 points total on 5-of-26 shooting. In the first five minutes of Sunday night’s win over Northwestern he scored 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the field — including 5-of-5 from three-point territory. Liddell scored his 21st point of the game with one minute remaining in the first half. He had a much calmer second half, scoring “just” 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting. All told, he was 12-of-20 from the field, 5-of-7 from three, and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. He also became the first player in over a decade to score over 30 points and hit five three-pointers while also blocking five shots.
Turnovers A Team-Wide Issue
They say it takes a village, and when it came to turnovers on Sunday, the Buckeyes brought the entire town out. Guard Cedric Russell was the only Buckeye who played more than five minutes and didn’t turn the ball over. As a team, Ohio State finished with 14 turnovers. That’s not a huge number, but at one point in the first half they had more turnovers (8) than missed shots (7). For a while the Buckeyes’ turnovers were the only thing keeping Northwestern in the game, especially with how efficient the OSU offense was in the first half. Ohio State turned the ball over on more than 20% of their possessions for the game.
A Tale Of Two Halves
If a team is going to have two halves of basketball that are pretty different from each other, it’s good to have a big first half to provide a bit of cushion. That’s what Ohio State did on Sunday. They led the Wildcats 51-39 at the half, but then gave up 48 points in the second half, scoring 44 themselves. The math still led to a win, but this was not Ohio State’s best defensive effort. Northwestern hit 16-of-37 shots in the first half, then improved that to 16-of-31 in the second half. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, went from shooting .667 in the first half to .458 in the second half. Fortunately for them, they also made 20 of their 21 free throw attempts in the second half.
Branham Continues To Blossom
Two games ago, Malaki Branham scored a career-high 35 points in a win over Nebraska. Last week, he went for 13 in a loss to Indiana. Tonight, he scored 24 points on just 5-of-8 shooting, but he added 13-of-14 shooting from the charity stripe. Branham continues to be effective off the dribble, whether it’s driving to the basket or pulling up for a mid-range jumper. He is getting more comfortable by the day. Over his last three games, he is averaging 23.7 points per game. Eventually, the scoring will come back down, but he now knows what he is capable of, which means he is also now capable of much more.
The Box Score
[EJ Liddell header photo is courtesy of the Ohio State Dept. of Athletics.]