E.J. Liddell Lights Up Wisconsin in Dominant Ohio State Win with Fifth 20-Point Outing of the Season

By Griffin Strom on December 11, 2021 at 5:17 pm
E.J. Liddell
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK

At this point, it’s become routine.

Expecting anything less than a stellar statistical output from E.J. Liddell in a final Ohio State box score would be foolhardy, but that doesn’t make an afternoon like the one the star forward put forth Saturday any less impressive. The junior Buckeye went for 28, nine and four against Wisconsin, missing just five of his 16 shot attempts and making the 22nd-ranked Badgers look a tier below Ohio State in an 18-point blowout at the Schottenstein Center.

“He’s such a weapon,” Buckeye head coach Chris Holtmann said after the game. “That kid can roll out of bed and get you 15 to 20, it’s just how he’s wired. He’s always been that way.”

After back-to-back 14-point performances in the two wins leading into Saturday, it appeared as though the Buckeye supporting cast had found its stride, allowing Liddell to shoulder less of the load when it comes to scoring the ball. But early on Saturday, with a big-game atmosphere in Columbus in the first Big Ten home game of the year, the Buckeyes found themselves in a situation that was all too familiar at the start of the season.

Liddell was the only Ohio State player who mustered much offense early in the game as the Illinois native scored 12 of the Buckeyes’ first 16 points. Hitting five of his first six shots during that stretch, there wasn’t a spot on the floor at which Liddell was uncomfortable on offense. Liddell knocked down a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game, converted a fast-break layup two series later and earned a three-point play on an and-one jumper from the elbow that drew a foul.

That play helped jump-start a 12-0 Buckeye run that took Ohio State from down eight points to ahead by four with 6:37 remaining in the first half, and the Buckeyes never surrendered the lead again thereafter.

“We’ve been able to move him around and play him in a lot of different positions, schematically, with his increased versatility,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s what helps, because I think if you just put him in one or two spots, that’s gonna limit him. So he’s really taking advantage, I think, of just the fact that he’s gotten a lot better, improved, and his teammates’ ability, also, to find him in different spots and move around on the floor.”

If there was any criticism to be levied at Liddell for his 14-point first-half performance, in which he missed just once from the field on seven attempts, it would be that he turned the ball over twice after doing so six times against Towson on Wednesday. Liddell almost had a third when he faced a Badger double-team in the high post, but Wisconsin was whistled for a foul instead. Still, Liddell was pulled from the game and no doubt heard a couple words about being stronger with the ball when he got to the sideline.

Liddell never turned it over again.

In the second half, Liddell mirrored his scoring total from the opening 20 minutes with another 14-point period. While Wisconsin opened the half with 14 misses on its first 16 attempts, the Buckeyes capitalized, and a 12-0 run from 12:18 to 9:53 put Ohio State ahead by a commanding 20-point margin.

It was Liddell that put the exclamation point on the run, completing another and-one down low to incite the screams of the home crowd. Liddell let out a roar of his own after finishing through contact, and pumped his fist in celebration.

His final 20 minutes weren’t quite as perfect on offense as his first, as Liddell missed four of his nine second-half shot attempts, but after one misfire Liddell managed to chase down the play on the other end and block a shot off the backboard to prevent any Badger swing in momentum.

Liddell also dished an assist for each one of his missed shots in the second half, finishing with four in the final 20 minutes to get his teammates involved in the action. That helped create opportunities for the likes of Meechie Johnson, Jamari Wheeler and Zed Key to make important contributions and help close Wisconsin out.

“They definitely sent a lot of people every time I touched the ball, so I feel like I was creating other shots for guys,” Liddell said. “I feel like when I draw a lot of attention, other people open up. I don’t have a problem not scoring, I’m gonna take advantage of it when I get an opportunity. But when other guys are open, I’m gonna let them score. I’m not a selfish player, never been.”

The Buckeyes got up by as many as 23 points late in a game that was considered a coin flip coming in, and no single player was more responsible for the win than Ohio State’s starting power forward.

“He’s playing like a dog, and we’re just gonna keep following him and playing to his level,” Wheeler said. 

Saturday saw Liddell score at least 28 points for the third time in 10 games to start the year, and it was his fifth 20-point effort of the season so far. But with two-thirds of the regular season still to come for Ohio State, Liddell’s ceiling – and the Buckeyes’ in general – may still prove to be higher yet.

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