Ohio State Fends Off Niagara to Notch 84-74 Win in Second Game of the Season

By Griffin Strom on November 12, 2021 at 6:48 pm

Ohio State edged out another tight game against an unranked mid-major opponent Friday with a 10-point win over Niagara.

After needing a game-winner in the waning moments to defeat Akron in Tuesday’s season opener, the Buckeyes side-stepped defeat once again at the Schottenstein Center in the second game of the year, handing the Purple Eagles an 84-74 loss in Columbus. The Buckeyes never trailed in the second half, but with less than a minute to play, the Purple Eagles were down only six points, and Niagara trailed just one point at halftime.

Team 1 2 FINAL
#17 OHIO STATE 42 42 84
NIAGARA 41 33 74

E.J. Liddell finished with a career-high 29 points to lead all scorers, giving him two straight games with at least 25 points to start the season for the Buckeyes. No other Buckeye scored more than 11 points. Liddell got to the line 12 times, hitting eight free throws on the night and his final five in a row in the last two minutes to keep Ohio State ahead late.

With seven minutes left to play and Ohio State up six, starting point guard Jamari Wheeler had not attempted a shot all night. His first was well-timed though, as a 3-point make from the top of the arc put the Buckeyes up 67-58. Wheeler struck again on the very next Ohio State possession, hitting another three from the wing to make it a 12-point Buckeye advantage.

An assist from Wheeler to Malaki Branham for a transition dunk at the 4:38 mark helped keep the Buckeye lead at 12 down the stretch, but Niagara had life in it yet, continuing to draw fouls to keep Ohio State from distancing itself completely.

With 1:56 to play though, Liddell converted an and-one in the paint and hit the free throw to give the Buckeyes a 10-point lead once again. The Buckeyes maintained the edge late with clutch free-throw shooting, as the Purple Eagles opted to foul for extra possessions in the game’s final minute.

One minute after throwing down a dunk with authority at the 16:38 mark, Zed Key blocked a shot at the other end to spark a transition runout for the Buckeyes. The ball found its way into the hands of Branham, who nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to give Ohio State its largest lead of the night, 53-46.

Justin Ahrens pushed the advantage to 10 with his second 3-pointer of the game two possessions later, but Niagara hung around with several timely scores to stay within single digits for much of the half.

The Buckeyes had opportunities to build a sizable lead early in the latter part of the second half, but four straight missed free throws from Liddell and a turnover from Kyle Young did not help matters for Ohio State.

Despite a red hot start to the game shooting and an 18-point explosion from Liddell, the Buckeyes went to the locker room with just a one-point lead over the Purple Eagles with a score of 42-41.

84 POINTS 74
27-50 (54.0%) FGM-FGA (PCT.) 24-56 (42.9%)
10-26 (38.5%) 3PM-3PA (PCT.) 11-21 (52.4%)
20-30 (66.7%) FTM-FTA (PCT.) 15-20 (75.0%)

Ohio State went on a 13-3 run in the first seven minutes, taking a 21-17 lead over Niagara, but the Purple Eagles answered back at every turn. Not even a stretch of nine field-goal makes in 11 attempts was enough to break away from Niagara, which was led by a 16-point half from Marcus Hammond. The Purple Eagle guard shot 5-for-8 from the floor and 3-for-4 from 3-point range in the opening 20 minutes. Hammond had 12 points in the first five minutes alone.

While Liddell shot 6-for-9 from the floor, including 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, the rest of the Buckeye roster managed to shoot just 7-for-17. Meechie Johnson was the only other Buckeye to score as many as seven points.

Young, who made his first appearance of the season off the bench, scored on an and-one alley oop dunk on a lob from Wheeler on the very first possession after he entered the game. However, it was Young’s lone field-goal attempt of the half.

Niagara led for six minutes out of the 20, and still held a 37-36 lead with 3:50 to play in the opening period. With the help of Johnson’s second 3-pointer of the half, the Buckeyes went on a 6-0 run thereafter, but a last-second layup helped Niagara stay within a point by the halftime buzzer.

Ohio State shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half, but the Purple Eagles hit 60 percent from 3-point range to stay within reach.

What's next: Ohio State returns to action Monday night at the Schottenstein Center for a matchup with Bowling Green, which is slated for a 6:30 p.m. tip-off in Columbus.

Other Notes

  • Niagara head coach and former Duke guard Greg Paulus was an assistant coach on Thad Matta's staff at Ohio State from 2011-17.
  • While Ohio State began the season with a 67-66 win Tuesday, Niagara suffered a 3-point defeat to Xavier on another one-possession game on the same night.
  • Friday night's game was the first-ever meeting between the Buckeye and Purple Eagle programs.
  • Ohio State entered the game with a 4-3 all-time record against teams from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
  • Kyle Young made his first appearance of the season for Ohio State after missing time with a vestibular dysfunction, and Cedric Russell was unavailable due to a death in the family.
  • Jamari Wheeler, Malaki Branham, Justin Ahrens, E.J. Liddell and Zed Key started the game for the Buckeyes. Branham, who made his first career start, replaced Meechie Johnson in the lineup from the season opener.
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