E.J. Liddell Fights Through Flu, Recent Hospitalization to Come Up Big in Ohio State’s 86-83 Win Over Illinois

By Griffin Strom on February 25, 2022 at 8:35 am
E.J. Liddell
© Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Something wasn’t right with E.J. Liddell when he came off the floor following Monday’s win over Indiana.

The Buckeye star didn’t quite look himself on the court, as he finished with 16 points on just 6-for-15 shooting – his worst field-goal percentage (40) at home all season. But behind the scenes, Liddell was struggling with much more than just an off night at the office. 

“My man needed fluids the night after the IU game,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said Thursday night. “He was in the hospital for a little bit just because of – it turned out it was just the flu – but he had a lot of fatigue.”

So severe were Liddell’s symptoms that three days after that hospitalization, the junior forward’s status remained in question for Thursday’s matchup with Illinois until just minutes before tip-off.

Luckily for the Buckeyes, their star was able to play. And not only did he play, Liddell racked up 21 points – his most in four games – on 7-for-15 shooting from the floor. He also grabbed six rebounds, blocked four shots and helped ice the game late with some clutch free throws. All of those numbers contributed to an 86-83 win over No. 15 Illinois that served as Ohio State's first ranked win since Dec. 11, a feat made even more impressive by the game’s location.

While many spectators were likely less than shocked to see Liddell gut out a game amid a flu diagnosis, Liddell said there was a very real chance he could have missed the matchup due to his ailment.

“How I felt earlier, I thought about (not playing),” Liddell said. “I felt like if I couldn’t give 100 percent of my effort, I wasn’t gonna come out here and BS my teammates. I just took a nap, talked to my mom before I got here, and I played. It’s gonna take a lot for me to not play a basketball game, but I just knew I had to come out here and play 100 percent if I was gonna play.”

Liddell’s teammates stepped up while he battled through illness, and none more than Malaki Branham. The freshman guard scored a game-high 31 points for Ohio State, and Kyle Young was a major factor as well with 18 points off the bench.

But Liddell’s play, especially given his circumstances, was certainly well worthy of praise. Despite missing his first three shots amid chants of “E.J. sucks” and “traitor” from Illinois fans, the Illinois native went on to shoot 7-for-12 the rest of the way, scoring 13 points in the second half.

Two that stood out in particular were a pair of free throws that Liddell sank to the dismay of the crowd at the 31-second mark, putting Ohio State up four points after Illinois had cut it to a one-possession ballgame just 26 seconds earlier. Illinois went on to hit a 3-pointer after that, cutting it to a one-point contest, but Liddell’s big hits gave the Buckeyes the wiggle room necessary to leave Champaign on top.

“I like shooting free throws in those moments,” LIddell said. “I feel like I’ve made a lot of free throws in those moments. It was a hostile crowd, it was nice, I liked playing in it. It was really cool, really loud, it was a great environment in there. So I had fun.”

Holtmann said if Liddell hadn’t played well, he would not have placed the blame on his sickness.

“He’s a tremendous talent and a tremendous kid. …  He was fine, he was good enough to play,” Holtmann said. “If he wouldn’t have played well, he’d have said, ‘Hey, it’s on me.’ So there would have been no excuses, but give him credit for really knocking down those two free throws, which were critical.”

Liddell’s workload did not decrease due to the flu, as he still logged a team-high 34 minutes in the contest. Adrenaline might have taken over in the moment, but Liddell said the physical toll from playing through the illness was sure to catch up with him eventually after the game.

But immediately after the game, Liddell was just pleased his team got a win and that he didn’t have to pull back from giving the maximum effort he demanded of himself before deciding to power through on Thursday.

“Right now I feel happy,” Liddell said. “I don’t know how I’m gonna feel in like 30 minutes, but as of right now, I’m enjoying this win.”

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