Malaki Branham, E.J. Liddell Struggle As Ohio State Gets Blown Out By Maryland

By Griffin Strom on February 27, 2022 at 8:06 pm
Kyle Young, Justin Ahrens, Jamari Wheeler, E.J. Liddell
Tommy Gilligan – USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s box score wasn’t kind to Buckeye stars Malaki Branham and E.J. Liddell.

In most games this season, one or both members of the prolific Ohio State duo have finished with impressive numbers no matter what the result for the scarlet and gray. But in a 15-point loss on the road at Maryland, neither player put their best foot forward. The pair combined for 24 points, shot just 7-for-23 and went 1-for-11 from 3-point range while Ohio State suffered its most lopsided defeat in nearly two months.

Branham led the Buckeyes in scoring for the fourth straight game, but his 13 points on 13 shots paled in comparison to his three previous games. The freshman scored 22, 27 and 31 in Ohio State’s last three games ahead of Sunday, but his 30.7 percent shooting performance against Maryland was his worst since Feb. 6 – the last time Ohio State played the Terps.

“He looked a little tired today, as did E.J. Couple of our other guys did too. But I thought their length and their size bothered him tonight,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said after the game. “They were really physical on his cuts. But he’s had a phenomenal year. He’s had a phenomenal year for us, given us a tremendous lift. He’s gonna learn from this moving forward. He struggled a little bit last time against these guys, I think their length and size, physicality has bothered him a little bit.”

Finishing 1-for-6 from the 3-point line, Branham missed his first five before hitting one, and his 4-for-4 performance from the free-throw line saved him from an even less awe-inspiring effort. Branham finished stronger than he started, scoring nine of his 13 points in the second half on 2-for-4 shooting, but five of those points came in the final three minutes after Maryland had already gone up double digits.

Liddell, who scored 21 points in Thursday’s win over Illinois despite battling through the flu, tied his second-lowest scoring game of the season on Sunday with just 11 points against Maryland. Not totally immune to a slow start, Liddell seemed likely to take things up a notch after a seven-point first half against the Terps. But that turnaround never came as Liddell scored just four points on 1-for-4 shooting in the final 20 minutes.

By shooting just 3-for-10 on the day, Liddell had his worst shooting percentage since Jan. 6, and he failed to hit a 3-pointer for just the second time all year. Liddell shot 0-for-5 from downtown, which is just the second time in his collegiate career that he has taken at least that many without a make.

“I thought they did a good job of trapping and coming and getting him off his spots and fronting him. He’s gotta work to get a little more involved,” Holtmann said. “He’s gotta bring more effort in certain areas, but we also gotta find certain ways to get him in his spots.”

As a team, Ohio State’s 36.2 percent field goal rate was its second-worst of any game this season. Hitting just eight of its 28 3-point attempts, Ohio State’s 20 misses from beyond the arc were tied for its most of the year.

If Branham and Liddell showed signs of fatigue on Sunday, the upcoming stretch may not be all that kind to them. Ohio State will play three more games in the next seven days to close out the regular season.

Both players left a lot on the court against Illinois on Thursday, when they combined for 52 points in an emotional game in hostile territory, but they’ll need to have more left in the tank if Ohio State expects to finish the regular season strong.

As anomalous as the off game for both of the Buckeyes’ two top players was, Ohio State must hope it remains a one-off moving forward. The Buckeyes weren’t good enough to beat the 11th-place team in the Big Ten standings on Sunday, but the team’s postseason aspirations go far past that caliber of opponent.

“We gotta prepare them better,” Holtmann said. “We tried to make it clear to them what they were gonna face, a really talented group that was starting to play a lot better here the last month. But it’s hard to win in this league, we just didn’t bring enough toughness or competitiveness really to start the game, for sure.”

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