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Keys to the Game: Ohio State rallies to beat Notre Dame, 90-85

E.J. Liddell’s 19 points led the Buckeyes past the Fighting Irish on Tuesday night.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After a tough day for Ohio State fans with the news of the Michigan game being cancelled, Buckeye Nation was looking for a little bit of relief from the basketball team on Tuesday night. Fortunately, their prayers were answered, as the Ohio State mens hoops took down Notre Dame 90-85 at the Joyce Center. Chris Holtmann’s squad rallied from down 11 at one point to come away with a big road in an early test in this shortened non-conference schedule.

The Bucks were led by E.J. Liddell, who really turned it on in the second period to finish with 19 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Ohio State hit a season-high 11 3-pointers, with Justin Ahrens knocking down 4-of-6 from deep and Duane Washington Jr. hitting three triples of his own. The Buckeyes had five players score in double-figures, with CJ Walker and Justice Sueing each finishing just behind Liddell with 16 points apiece. Walker was clutch at the free throw line, going a perfect 8-for-8 at the stripe and icing the game at the end.


Going against the grain

It wasn’t very hard to scout Ohio State’s offense coming into this game. The Buckeyes aren’t a big team, but they play tough inside and score a ton of their points in the paint. Where they’ve struggled to start the year is from three-point range, where as a unit they’ve shot just 32% through their first three games. They looked a little better the last time out against Morehead State, knocking down 10-of-26 (38.5%) from downtown, but OSU doesn’t look like a team that is going to light it up from deep this season.

So, naturally, they came out against Notre Dame knocking down triples. Ohio State hit on four of its first six attempts from beyond the arc, with CJ Walker, Justice Sueing, Duane Washington Jr. and Justin Ahrens all hitting from deep early. The Fighting Irish were comfortable letting the Buckeyes shoot it from what they’ve seen on tape, and Chris Holtmann’s squad made them pay early on. Unfortunately for the scarlet and gray, the guys in gold were equally up to the task, knocking down 4-of-8 from three-point land to start.

OSU was pretty solid from three overall in the first period, hitting seven 3-pointers through the first 20 minutes. Ahrens was money off the bench, going a perfect 3-for-3 from deep to begin his night as he led the Buckeyes with nine points heading into the break. They would finish the game hitting at a season high 47.8% clip from downtown, with the team’s 11 makes from range also their highest total through four games.

The Moose is loose

Coming into tonight’s action we weren’t sure if we would see redshirt junior Musa Jallow. After playing in 35 games as a sophomore, the 6-foot-5 guard missed all of last season following surgery on his ankle. Jallow played 12 minutes in Ohio State’s first game of this new campaign, going 0-of-4 from the field with three rebounds and a steal, but hasn’t played since as he continues to nurse that injury.

A game-time decision against the Fighting Irish, Jallow did in fact make an appearance on Tuesday night. He knocked down his first basket of the season midway through the first period, hustling towards the basket off an offensive rebound and dropping a nice teardrop floater through the twine in what was his first points scored for the Buckeyes since March 24, 2019. He finished the game with seven points on 3-of-5 shooting, while also hauling in a pair of rebounds and a steal as he was a strong defensive presence all night long — including locking up Prentiss Hubb on the final possession.

An ugly ending to the half

It was a back and forth contest throughout the opening period — that is until the final three minutes. With the game tied at 34-34, Ohio State could not get out of its way, being held scoreless over the final 3:18 of the half as Notre Dame headed into the locker room on an 8-0 run. The Buckeyes started settling a bit too much from three at the end of the first, missing its final three shot attempts and turning it over twice during the scoring drought.

As a result, the Fighting Irish headed into halftime with a 42-34 lead. Cormac Ryan could do no wrong in the first period, shooting 5-of-7 from the field including a pair of 3-pointers to lead all scorers with 15 points. The Buckeyes shot just 38% in the half, compared to 50% for Notre Dame.

Up among the trees

While Ohio State is lacking in height, they have still be able to dominate opponents in the paint early in the season. Against some not-so-stiff competition, the Buckeyes simply out-muscled and out-hustled the opposition underneath the basket, overcoming the height differential with strength and physicality. However, things were clearly going to get much harder once they got up against actual Power 5 competition — which we saw firsthand on Tuesday.

With guys like 6-foot-10 Nate Laszewski and 6-foot-11 Juwan Durham clogging the lane, Ohio State had a much tougher time getting their offense going inside and coming down with rebounds at both ends of the floor. The Buckeyes don't have a ton of guys adept at creating their own shot, and with the big bodies on defense making things difficult in the paint, OSU was forced to shoot far too many jump shots they haven’t been accustomed to taking. At the other end, the Bucks had trouble coming down with rebounds whenever they needed a big stop.

After averaging 32 points in the paint per game through its first three contests, Ohio State managed just eight points from in close in the opening period against Notre Dame. They were much better at attacking in the second half, however, scoring 20 inside in period two — thanks in part to Durham fouling out. It was the first time this season the Buckeyes have been out-rebounded, losing the battle on the boards 35-32.

A strong final surge

After trailing for a large portion of the game, Ohio State really turned it on midway through the second period. While the Buckeyes were shooting a respectable percentage from three-point land, the team realized it couldn’t go shot-for-shot with Notre Dame for another 20 minutes, and instead looked to attack early and often. With Durham out most of the second half, it made a life a bit easier inside for OSU to drive and score from in close.

Ohio State outscored Notre Dame 56-43 in the second period, propelling them to victory after trailing by as much as 11 earlier in the contest. The ball movement and execution on the offensive end was much better, especially over the final 10 minutes of action, and there was a much better effort on defense than we saw in period one. E.J. Liddell was spectacular down the stretch, both at putting points on the board and crashing the glass with authority.

As a result, the Buckeyes move to 4-0 on the young season with an impressive gutsy win over the Fighting Irish.