Branham Explodes for 35, to Lead Ohio State over Nebraska in OT
#13 Ohio State, coming off a Covid related layoff of 22 days, the longest mid season layoff in 78 years that resulted in 3 cancellations and despite showing a bit of rust, the Buckeyes picked up where they left off, winning their 5th straight, knocking off Nebraska on the road 87-79 in overtime to move to 9-2 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten and remain tied at the top of the standings with Michigan State. With the loss, Nebraska drops to 6-8 and 0-3 in conference play. Freshman Malaki Branham led all scorers with a career high 35 including 6 triples, becoming the first Buckeye freshman since D’Angelo Russell in 2015 to top the 30 point mark. Jamari Wheeler added 16 points and 7 dimes, including two big threes in the overtime period, and E.J. Liddell added 10 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists, despite shooting just 2 of 14 from the floor. Zed Key also chipped in 7 points along with 13 rebounds to help Ohio State escape Nebraska with a big win.
The Buckeyes opened the scoring as Malaki Branham buried a three from the right point, but four straight Husker points put Nebraska in front early. The Buckeyes went back ahead after a pair of offensive rebounds created a lay in by Jamari Wheeler. After a Nebraska turnover, Branham hit another three, this time from the left wing and Ohio State was up 8-4. Another Branham triple ballooned the Buckeye lead to 11-4 at the first media timeout with Ohio State on an 8-0 run. Out of the timeout, a pair of Cornhusker free throws ended the run and trimmed the lead to five. E.J. Liddell split a pair of free throws and then followed a Branham miss with a tip in to put the Buckeyes up 8, but a Husker bucket cut the lead to 6 at the under 12 timeout. Nebraska cut the lead to four with a hoop and after a pair of triples fell, the Huskers were suddenly up two. Branham ended the 10-0 Husker run with a floater mid lane to tie the score and Cedric Russell drilled a left corner three to put Ohio State back ahead. The Huskers tied the score with a three of their own but Branham hit another triple and the Buckeyes were back up three at the under 8 media timeout. A pair of Nebraska free throws were split to trim the lead to two, but Branham got to the rim off the bounce for a dunk and the Buckeyes were up four. A Husker response with a dunk cut the lead back to a pair but a Jamari Wheeler three as the shot clock was expiring put the Buckeyes up five. Another Branham three in transition from the right corner forced Nebraska to call timeout as the Buckeyes led 30-22 with just under 5 to go in the first half. Nebraska got to the rim for a bucket to cut the lead to six at the final media timeout of the first half. Nebraska scored the next 8 to regain the lead before a Branham 15 footer dropped to stop the Husker 10-0 run and tie the score. A Zed Key bucket in the final seconds ended the first half scoring and sent the teams to the locker room with Ohio State on top 34-32 despite only getting 5 points from the trio of Justin Ahrens, Zed Key and E.J. Liddell. Malaki Branham went off for 21 points to carry Ohio State. Branham hit 8 of 12 from the field, including 5 of 8 from beyond the arc, while the rest of the team hit just 5 of 20 from the floor and 2 of 11 from deep to keep Nebraska right in the basketball game. Nebraska hit on 44% of their shot attempts including just 3 of 12 from deep.
The Huskers tied it in their first possession to tie it, but an Ahrens triple from the short corner dropped to put the Buckeyes back up three. Wheeler increased the lead to five, knifing to the rim off the bounce but a long Husker triple trimmed the lead back to two. Branham answered with a three from the right wing and Ohio State led by five again. Nebraska scored off the dribble to get back within two and with 15:50 on the game clock and a media timeout, Ohio State was clinging to a 42-39 advantage. Three Nebraska free throws re-tied the game with just over 15 to go as Ohio State had turned it over three straight possessions. Branham gave Ohio State the lead again, hitting a running one hander in the middle of the lane, but Nebraska scored off the glass to tie the game once again. Jimmy Sotos drilled a wide open three from the right corner to put Ohio State back ahead, but a pair of Nebraska free throws trimmed the lead back to just one. The Buckeyes scored on consecutive possessions as Sotos got into the lane off the bounce and fed Key for a dunk and then found Gene Brown at the block for a lay-in and suddenly Ohio State was up 5 and Nebraska called timeout with just over 12 minutes to go. Out of the timeout, a Nebraska triple cut the lead to two, but a Key left hand hook from the right block put the Buckeyes back up four. Nebraska answered with a bucket at the rim, but back came Ohio State as Meechie Johnson tickled the twine with a triple from the left point and the Buckeyes were up five at the under 12 media timeout. Following the timeout, Liddell banged down a three from the top to put the Buckeyes up 8. Back to back triples from Nebraska got the Huskers within two and after a Buckeye miss, Nebraska tied the score and Chris Holtmann called a timeout with the game tied as the Huskers were on a quick 8-0 run as the Buckeyes were struggling to slam the door on the pesky Cornhuskers. Branham got to the rim off the bounce to put Ohio State back up a pair, but a pair of Nebraska free throws re tied the game. Key split a pair of freebies to put Ohio State back ahead by a point. The free throw contest continued as Nebraska took a one point lead, knocking down a pair. The Huskers went up three, scoring on a put back and went up four after splitting a pair of free throws. Branham split a pair of free throws to trim the deficit to three and following a Nebraska turnover, Branham got to the stripe again and knocked down the pair to trim the deficit to just one. Nebraska went back up three with a bucket at the rim and another Husker bucket put Nebraska up five with 2 minutes left. Branham hit another 15 footer to cut the lead to three, but a Nebraska dunk put the Huskers back up five. Jamari Wheeler buried a triple from the left wing to trim the lead to two and a quick timeout with just 28 seconds to go in the game. The Buckeyes fouled in the backcourt and after Nebraska missed both, Liddell got fouled, cleaning up a Johnson miss, and E.J. calmly buried both to tie the score with 8.9 left on the clock. Nebraska had a shot, but the extra defensive effort by Liddell after a Brown block sent the game to overtime.
Wheeler bagged a triple to open the overtime period and after a Nebraska miss, Liddell kicked to Johnson on the right wing for three and the Buckeyes were up six. A Husker three cut the lead in half with just over 2 to go, but Wheeler drilled another triple from the top and Ohio State was back up six. A pair of Nebraska free throws trimmed the lead to four but Branham hit a pull up 14 footer, and a Liddell blocked shot on the other end gave the ball back to Ohio State and Coach Holtmann called timeout with 39.9 remaining and Ohio State up 83-77. Nebraska fouled Liddell to send E.J. to the stripe and he bagged them both to push the lead to 8. Nebraska scored to cut the lead to six, but time was running out and after a Nebraska timeout, Ahrens was fouled in the backcourt. Justin buried both to end the scoring as the Buckeyes escaped with the victory.
The Buckeyes were certainly affected by the layoff as they really struggled to find a rhythm offensively other than Branham who put the team on his back on this night. They really missed E.J. Liddell’s production, forcing a lot of off balance attempts and just couldn’t find it all night long, but when they needed him down the stretch, he came up big with a huge offensive rebound, two ice cold free throws and defensive stop on the other end to get it to overtime. Nebraska did an excellent job packing the lane and creating difficulty for Ohio State to get anything in the paint and the Buckeyes, but to Ohio State’s credit, they made enough plays, and made enough shots from the outside to get the win. They showed a lot of toughness and grit and when their leader was struggling, who was going to step up and pick up the scoring load? On this night it was the freshman Malaki Branham, who is a budding star and showed his high ceiling on this night, continually making big shots and building confidence for a kid who came in with a reputation as a scorer but hadn’t quite found his rhythm just yet. Hopefully a game like this can be the start of big things for him and springboard this team into big things as they get into the heart of the Big Ten season. The Buckeyes are getting closer to getting back to full strength. They were missing Kyle Young, dealing with a non Covid related illness, but he will be back for the next one and Justice Sueing and Seth Towns are getting closer to returning so there is some excitement building in Columbus for this team.
Ohio State is scheduled to take the floor again on Thursday night, hitting the road again, heading to Bloomington, Indiana to take on the Hoosiers. That game is scheduled to tip at 7 PM and airing on FS1.