Ohio State (13-4, 6-2) dominated on the glass Thursday night, outrebounding Minnesota 48-22 overall and 20-6 on the offensive boards in the No. 16 Buckeyes’ impressive 75-64 win over the Gophers (11-6, 2-6) in Williams Arena.
Ohio State forward EJ Liddell led all scorers with 23 points. He passed the 1,000-point mark for his career on the night as well. He also added a career-high 15 rebounds. Kyle Young scored 14 points, Zed Key added 12, and Malaki Branham dropped in 11.
Interestingly, the Buckeyes started out with Branham scoring nine of OSU’s first 11 points, with his third basket coming via an EJ Liddell-led fastbreak and alley-oop pass. The fourth field goal was a top-of-the-key three-pointer to give Ohio State an 11-6 lead early on. The lead was short-lived, however, thanks to a 7-2 Minnesota run to tie the game midway through the first half.
Three-pointers from Gophers Luke Loewe and EJ Stephens sandwiched a three from Meechie Johnson a couple of minutes later. The two teams then traded threes from Liddell and Jamison Battle to make it 29-27 Minnesota with under three minutes to play in the first half.
The Buckeyes led 32-30 at the half and quickly opened up an eight-point lead in the second half thanks to a three-pointer from Justin Ahrens and three-point play from Liddell. The two teams then traded baskets for much of the rest of the second half. The Gophers rarely had an answer for Kyle Young or Zed Key in the post.
Young scored eight points over the course of two minutes to help Ohio State open up a 48-37 lead with 14:20 to play. Key then added eight of his own points over the next five minutes to keep the lead at 12 points. Minnesota’s Sean Sutherlin dropped in a three to make it 58-49 with 8:35 to play, which excited the crowd. Liddell quieted them right up on the ensuing possession thanks to a three of his own.
After a step-back three by Cedric Russell gave Ohio State a 66-53 lead with 6:46 remaining, the Gophers went on a 4-0 run over the next two minutes via a layup from Sutherlin and a pair of free throws from Battle. A pair of free throws from Liddell and a second-chance three from Russell ended Minnesota’s final hopes. Liddell added some exclamation points with a pair of dunks in the game’s final 90 seconds.
Liddell also led the Buckeyes with five assists.
The Buckeyes were without starting point guard Jamari Wheeler in this game as he recovers from a leg/ankle injury. He was day-to-day so the hope is that this will be the only game he misses. In his stead, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann went with freshman Meechie Johnson. Johnson was also day-to-day coming into the game thanks to facial injury and concussion suffered last week. Johnson ended up playing 30 minutes, scoring three points on 1-of-7 shooting. With Branham also getting the start, it reportedly (via the Columbus Dispatch’s Adam Jardy) marked the first time since 1996 that the Buckeyes started a pair of true freshmen in the backcourt. Branham even got a few possessions at point guard himself. Together, they turned the ball over just once. Though they did miss 15 of their 21 field goal attempts.
Second Half Ball Movement
The Buckeyes came out of halftime moving well and sharing the ball, and it all seemingly started with Justin Ahrens connecting on a three-pointer. The ball movement over the first 10 minutes of the second half kept Minnesota’s zone defense a step behind. For the entire second half, the Buckeyes had 12 assists on their 17 made baskets. They got good looks throughout the game because the passes were constant and the turnovers were rare.
Four of the five Buckeye field goals that didn’t feature assists in the second half were offensive rebound put-backs by EJ Liddell and Zed Key. Minnesota’s defense had trouble all night long handling the Ohio State post offense, specifically Key and Kyle Young. Together, the physical pair scored 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting. When the Gophers decided not to double the post, Key and Young made them pay for it. The duo also added 12 rebounds in their 42 total minutes of action.
[EJ Liddell header photo courtesy of the Ohio State Dept of Athletics.]