Liddell’s Career Night Leads Ohio State by Niagara

E.J. Liddell scored a career high 29 points to lead Ohio State by a pesky Niagara team coached by former Buckeye assistant Greg Paulus, 84-74 to move to 2-0 on the young season. The Buckeyes didn’t trail after regaining the lead late in the first half, but the Purple Eagles cut the lead down to six with just under a minute to play. Every time the Buckeyes started to try to pull away, Niagara made a big shot and kept Ohio State within reach. The Buckeyes turned up the defense in the second half, slowing a hot shooting Niagara offense, while forcing 13 turnovers and scoring 13 points off those turnovers, keying the win. In addition to Liddell’s big day, Zed Key added 11 points and 7 rebounds, while Justice Sueing came off the bench to chip in 10. Jamari Wheeler also added 9 to go along with 6 assists. Marcus Hammond led Niagara with 22 in the loss as the Purple Eagles dropped to 0-2 with losses to Xavier and now Ohio State.

A pair of Zed Key free throws opened the scoring but a Niagara triple put the Purple Eagles ahead. E.J. Liddell answered with a triple of his own to tie the score and on the next trip, it was Liddell again, drilling another three from the top to put Ohio State ahead 8-5. Back came Niagara, as Marcus Hammond drilled a pair of threes and he scored at the rim while being fouled, sending the teams to the benches at the first media timeout with Nigara on top 13-8 and due to go to the stripe. The free throw dropped out of the timeout to put the Eagles up 6. Liddell cut the deficit to four when he put the ball on the deck and got into the paint and scored on a short jumper.After a Niagara turnover, Jamari Wheeler sped up the floor after the inbounds pass, lobbed to Kyle Young, who entered for the first time this season and Kyle dunked while being fouled. Young bagged the free throw to trim the deficit to just one. After a Niagara triple fell, Liddell got fouled attempting a three and knocked down all three to bring the Eagle lead back to one. On the ensuing possession, Justin Ahrens came up with a steal and in transition, lobbed to Liddell for a dunk, putting Ohio State back on top. After a Niagara miss, Meechie Johnson came up with a rebound, his quick outlet pass found Liddell and EJ found Ahrens on the right wing and after a dribble to get set, Ahrens drilled the three to put Ohio State up 21-17 and Niagara took a timeout with 13:11 remaining in the first half. Niagara scored on their next possession, but Liddell answered with a 15 footer to keep the lead at 4. The Purple Eagles cut the Buckeye lead to one when they completed an old fashioned three point play. After a Niagara turnover and facing a 2-3 zone, Johnson drilled a triple from the top to put Ohio State up 4. Niagara answered with a three of their own to trim the lead immediately back to 1. Justice Sueing put Ohio State back up three when he dribbled across the lane from the left and pulled up and nailed a 12 footer. Two Niagara free throws trimmed the lead back to one, but Johnson grabbed an offensive rebound and got fouled attempting a put back. Johnson split the free throws and Ohio State maintained possession after the ball trickled out off of a Niagara player. Sueing put the ball on the floor, used a Zed Key screen and scored from the left block putting the Buckeyes back up four. A Niagara three was followed by a Liddell three from the right point and at the under 8 minute timeout, both teams were shooting it at a high level but the Buckeyes led 34-30. A 7-0 Niagara run put the Purple Eagles back on top but Key grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the put back to end the run at 7 and trimmed the deficit to one. After Key split a pair of free throws, the game was tied and the Buckeyes went back in front when Johnson hit a long three from the left point. A pair of Niagara free throws cut the lead to one. In the waning seconds of the half, two Sueing free throws put Ohio State up three, but racing up the floor, Niagara hit a runner at the horn and Ohio State went to the locker room clinging to a 42-41 lead. Ohio State clung to the lead despite porous defense which allowed Niagara to shoot 48.3%, including a blistering 60% from beyond the arc. Ohio State shot 50% from the floor in the first 20 minutes, including 6 of 13 from deep. E.J. Liddell led all scorers with 18 first half points, while Niagara was led by Marcus Hammond’s 16.

The Buckeyes came out of the break looking at a 2-3 zone and Wheeler found a slashing Branham who scored at the rim to put Ohio State up 3. After an Eagle shot clock violation, Liddell hit a short fade away to put Ohio State up 5. Liddell put Ohio State up 7 when Wheeler fed him on the right block for two, but 5 straight Eagle points trimmed the lead back to just 2. Ohio State answered the mini run by the Eagles with a 5-0 run of their own, capped by a Branham triple from the right corner giving Ohio State a 53-46 advantage and forcing Niagara to call timeout. The run increased to 8-0 and the lead went to 10 when Ahrens buried a three from the right wing, but Niagara wasn’t going away, an old fashioned three point play ended the Buckeye run and got the Eagles within 7. The Buckeyes went back up 9 when Ahrens lobbed to Young for a dunk, and stayed at 9 after a Purple Eagle bucket, Key tipped in a Young missed three. The lead increased to 11 when Sueing scored from the left block. A pair of Purple Eagle threes sandwiched a Sueing 15 foot jumper and cut the lead to 7 and at the under 8 media timeout, Ohio State led Niagara 64-57. A Niagara free throw cut the lead to six, but Wheeler drilled back to back triples from the top to put Ohio State up 12 forcing Niagara to call timeout with 6:14 to go and the Buckeyes leading 70-58. A 4-0 Purple Eagle burst was answered by a 4-0 Buckeye run of their own as a pair of Key free throws was followed by a Branham dunk in transition. Niagra wasn’t going away easily, scoring the next five to trim the lead to 7. Liddell ended the run, completing an old fashioned three point play, scoring mid paint and drilling the ensuing freebie, putting the Buckeyes back up 10 with just under 2 minutes to go. A four point Niagara possession cut the lead to just 6, After a miss on both ends, Niagara started playing the foul game with less than a minute to play. Liddell went to the stripe and buried both to give Ohio State an 8 point lead. After a Niagara miss, a quick foul sent Wheeler to the stripe and Jamari nailed both his free ones to put the Buckeyes up 10. Niagara drilled a triple to cut the lead to 7, but with just 26 seconds to go. Liddell went back to the stripe after being fouled in the backcourt and drilled another pair. Wheeler split a pair of free throws to complete the scoring as the Buckeyes survived their second straight challenge.

For the second straight game, the Buckeyes really struggled to find chemistry and production in their backcourt. Justice Sueing got it going a bit, but still not fully healthy although looked better tonight than he did in game 1 and Wheeler found his stroke from deep late, but overall they are lacking consistency with their backcourt and will need to figure that out as the schedule ramps up. There were some positives, obviously Liddell’s big night, but Kyle Young getting 22 minutes and pulling down 7 rebounds and despite showing some rust, showed how he can affect a game when he’s on the floor. It’s still early and they will improve and to be honest, they have a lot of improving to do to compete among the nation’s best.

Ohio State plays again on Monday in the campus portion of the Fort Myers Classic, hosting Bowling Green at 6:30 and airing on BTN.

-Jason Harris

Photo Credit to Buckeyes Wire



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