Liddell, Branham Lead Ohio State Past Northwestern
13th ranked Ohio State rebounded from their first conference loss to down visiting Northwestern in the only regular season matchup between the two, 95-87 in the Schottenstein Center. Playing at home for the first time in nearly a month, the Buckeyes were forced to play without Coach Chris Holtmann and Associate Head Coach Ryan Pedon who were both sidelined in health and safety protocols. With Assistant Coach Jake Diebler at the helm, Ohio State jumped out to a big lead early and fended off a pesky Wildcat team to move to 10-3 overall and 4-1 in Big Ten play. The loss for Northwestern dropped the Wildcats to 8-5 and 1-3 in conference action. Ohio State opened the game on a 29-14 run in the first 8 minutes and had to fend off a pesky Wildcat bunch to come away with the win. E.J. Liddell led Ohio State with a career high 34, while Malaki Branham added 24. Jamari Wheeler contributed another outstanding floor game, finishing with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists for the Buckeyes who shot 57% from the floor on this night, including 11 of 25 from long range. Northwestern caught fire from deep in the second half and shot 47% for the game and hit 10 of 24 from three. The Wildcats put four in double figures, led by Ty Berry’s 23, while Pete Nance and Chase Audige each added 20 and Boo Buie chipped in 11.
E.J. Liddell opened the scoring, scoring at point blank range from the low right. After a Wildcat bucket, Liddell found the stroke from long range from the right point to put Ohio State up 5-2. Malaki Branham scored with a reverse lay-in and Liddell drilled a three after a Northwestern miss to go up 10-2. The ‘Cats scored on their next possession to end the Ohio State 8-0 run, but Liddell hit another from beyond the arc to put the Buckeyes up 13-4. Northwestern answered the Liddell triple with one of their own to cut into the Ohio State lead and after a Buckeye turnover, another Wildcat bucket trimmed the Ohio State lead to 4. Liddell drilled another triple which was answered by a Northwestern bucket and the lead stood at 4 after a little more than 4 minutes of play. Liddell popped from deep beyond the arc at the top and the heat check dropped and the Buckeyes were up 19-11 at the first media timeout of the half. Liddell found Zed Key at the rim for a bucket and the Buckeyes were up 10. Northwestern split a pair of free throws and two freebies by Branham put Ohio State up 11. A Wildcat bucket trimmed the lead to 9, but a pair of triples by Branham and Meechie Johnson forced Northwestern to call timeout with Ohio State now leading 29-14 and 12:06 remaining in the half. An old-fashioned three point play by Northwestern trimmed the lead to 12, and after a Buckeye turnover, the Wildcats scored to get a bit closer. Key scored at the rim to stop the mini Northwestern run, but another Wildcat bucket kept the lead at 10. The lead was cut to 7 when a three dropped, but Liddell found Cedric Russell in the right corner for a triple to increase the lead back to 10 and at the under 8 media timeout, Ohio State led Northwestern 34-24 with Kyle Young due to go to the stripe. Young knocked down both free throw attempts and the Buckeyes were back up 12. Northwestern trimmed the lead to 10, but a transition triple off the fingers of Russell from the left corner put Ohio State up 13. Two Northwestern free throws were followed by a short Branham jumper mid lane to keep the lead at 13. A 4-0 Northwestern run trimmed the lead to nine, but a Branham lay up off the bounce ended the short run and put Ohio State back up 11. A Wildcat bucket was followed by a Liddell fade away mid lane and at the final media timeout of the half Ohio State was on top 45-34 and Branham due to head to the stripe for a pair. Branham buried both free throws and Ohio State was up 13. A Wildcat long three from the top cut the lead to 10, but a Liddell fade away from the left baseline fell and Ohio State was up 12. On the ensuing possession, Wheeler picked the pocket of a Wildcat and went uncontested to the other end for a lay-in and the Buckeyes were up 14. The Wildcats got a rebound and put back at the horn to send the teams to the locker room with Ohio State leading Northwestern 51-39. The Buckeyes hit a red hot 67% from the field, while knocking down 9 of 16 from beyond the arc and would be up much more if not for 8 first half turnovers. Northwestern hit just 43% of their shot attempts, including just 3 of 10 from long range. E.J. Liddell scored a game high 21 first half points and Malaki Branham added 13. Northwestern was led by 9 T.J. Berry first half points.
The lead increased to 14 on the first possession of the second half as Liddell caught the ball and scored at the rim. Northwestern split a pair of free throws and after a Wildcat triple dropped, the lead stood at 10. Wheeler dropped in a short runner off the glass which was followed by a Wildcat bucket and a split pair of free throws and another bucket to trim the lead to 7. After an offensive foul by Key on the Ohio State end, the teams hit the benches for the under 16 media timeout with Northwestern on a 9-2 run. The run increased to 12-2 as the Cats drilled a three out of the timeout to cut the lead to just four. Branham hit a pull up jumper mid lane to stop the bleeding and after a Northwestern miss, Key hit a jump hook in the middle of the paint to put Ohio State up 8. A Wildcat hoop and a pair of Branham free throws held the lead at 8 with 13:26 to play. A Northwestern triple, followed by a short baseline jumper from the right by Key had the Buckeyes up 7. Russell got into the lane with dribble penetration and found Young streaking along the baseline for a reverse lay-in and at the 11:09 mark and the under 12 media timeout, Ohio State was up 65-56. A great two man game with Wheeler and Russell found Russell wide open for a triple from the right wing and the Buckeyes were up 12. Northwestern answered with a three of their own, but a pair of Young free throws put the Buckeyes up 11. A pair of Wildcat free throws followed by a Buckeye miss and another Northwestern hoop cut the lead back to 7, but a long Johnson three from 24 feet dropped to put Ohio State back up 10 and Ohio State took a quick timeout with 8:01 left in the basketball game. After a Wildcat turnover, Branham got back to the stripe and knocked down both attempts to put the Buckeyes up 12. Northwestern cut into the lead with a bucket on their end, but Liddell got to the rim off the bounce and scored while being fouled. He knocked down the freebie for the old-fashioned three point play and Ohio State was up 13. A pair of Wildcat free throws cut into the Buckeye lead, but Liddell rolled in a runner to keep the lead at 13. Northwestern scored in transition to cut back into the lead, but Ohio State answered with another two Branham free throws. A corner three from Northwestern cut the lead to 10 and the Wildcats called a 30 second timeout with just under 5 minutes to play. Liddell hit a fade away at the stripe, but another Wildcat bucket trimmed the lead back to 10 and at the final media timeout of the game, Ohio State led Northwestern 84-74 and 3:50 to go in the game. A pair of Northwestern free throws out of the timeout cut the lead back to 8 and after a Buckeye turnover, another WIldcat hoop cut the lead to 6 with 3 minutes left. Four Wheeler free throws put Ohio State up 10. Northwestern split a pair of free throws to stay within 9, but Branham split a pair, the first miss from the line for the Buckeyes on the night, to keep the lead at 10. The Wildcats drilled a three to cut the lead to 7 but with just over a minute to go. Liddell went back to the stripe on the other end and knocked down both to put Ohio State up 9 with 45 seconds left. Northwestern hit another triple to cut the lead to six and fouled Liddell in the back court. E.J. knocked down both and after a Northwestern bucket, Branham bagged two free throws to complete the scoring and the Buckeye win.
Tonight was another case of the Buckeyes depth showing up. Liddell certainly found his stroke early, which was a welcomed sight after struggling the past two games coming off COVID and Malaki Branham continues to play with confidence, but big shots from Meechie Johnson and Cedric Russell give Ohio State so many weapons for opponents to account for. The turnovers remain an issue as the Buckeyes had chances to really pull away in this game, but 14 giveaways, most of them unforced, allowed Northwestern to find their stroke and gain confidence to stay in the game. The Buckeyes will certainly have to continue to work on that aspect of their game as they move forward to reach the heights this team is certainly capable of reaching. They also need to do a better job finding shooters in the half court and recovering on the help side. Northwestern is a team who utilizes a lot of slip screens and backdoor cuts which led to open looks and easy buckets and Ohio State looked lost at times leaving shooters with wide open looks especially in the second half. The free throw shooting was another positive in this one, hitting 26 of 27, which was key to enabling Ohio State to come away with a win. It was nice to be back at home for the first time since December 11th, but they will have to head right back out on the road and it won’t get any easier as they make a trip to Wisconsin on Thursday and look for a season sweep of the Badgers. Until then, they will get back in the gym to get better and hopefully get healthy as they continue to move forward in a very talented conference.
Ohio State will hit the hardwood again on Thursday evening, back on the road in Madison to take on Wisconsin at 7 PM and airing on ESPN2.