After not playing for nine days, the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes (13-4, 6-2) traveled to a notoriously tough place to play — “The Barn” in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-6, 2-6).
This was the game of potential milestones for the Buckeyes, as E.J. Liddell entered the game just 12 points shy of 1,000 career points and head coach Chris Holtmann entered the just one win shy of 100 as the Buckeye head coach. Both were able to achieve the milestone, as the OSU took the victory 75-64.
Along with Justice Sueing and Seth Towns, the Buckeyes were without starting point guard Jamari Wheeler, who was unavailable due to an ankle injury. The Buckeyes did get Meechie Johnson back, who started at point guard for Wheeler, after Johnson missed the last three games with a concussion and facial fracture.
The Buckeyes came into this one having lost three in a row at the Barn dating back to 2015, and all by double digits. Minnesota was coming in having lost five games this season, all of which have come in conference play. One of the early surprises in the conference with their 10-1 start and only loss coming in a close matchup against Michigan State, the Golden Gophers had lost four in a row, but came into this one on a high note after taking down Rutgers at home on Saturday — a huge win for Ben Johnson and company.
Ohio State came into the game with sole possession of fourth-place in the conference and were chasing two teams in second place — Wisconsin and Michigan State — who were sitting at 6-2. Wisconsin defeated Nebraska earlier in the day and moved into a tie for first place with the 7-2 Illinois Fighting Illini. Here were the Big Ten standings entering play on Jan. 27.
.@IlliniMBB’s back on top of the B1G after last night’s big win. pic.twitter.com/tvdTveMq8k— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 26, 2022
Minnesota got their leading scorer Jamison Battle back, who is averaging 18 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Battle missed the Gophers’ game against Rutgers with a non-COVID illness, but was healthy enough to play tonight. He finished with 15 points on 5-18 shooting. Minnesota’s leading rebounder Eric Curry was unable to go in this one.
Branham off to a hot start
It was freshman Malaki Branham who led the Buckeyes out of the gate in this one, scoring 9 of the Buckeyes first 11 points. The Gophers were daring the Buckeyes early to beat them from deep with the zone, and the strategy paid off early, as Ohio State went 3-15 from downtown during the first half.
Branham would finish the first half with 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting and four rebounds. He did not score in the second half, finishing with those same 11 points on 5-14 shooting.
Eight Buckeyes played in the first eight minutes as Chris Holtmann and his staff were trying out some different rotations early on without their starting point guard.
9️⃣pts,5️⃣ minutes pic.twitter.com/9tFkQb838U— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) January 28, 2022
Liddell on the boards
EJ Liddell has never been a stranger to rebounding, as he entered the game averaging 7.3 per game and was 11th in the conference on the glass. He had five in the first five minutes of this contest and finished with nine in the first half — five of which came on the offensive end. Liddell almost had a double-double in the first half, recording nine points and nine rebounds.
He added three assists, a steal and a block and made his final three shots from the field in the opening half. Liddell finished with a career-high 15 rebounds. He added 23 points and five assists, his 15th career 20 point game and seventh this season.
fyi— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) January 28, 2022
EJ boards: 5️⃣
Minnesota boards: 6️⃣ pic.twitter.com/g1Y1KkqYoQ
Meechie Johnson or Bane?
Johnson returned from his three game hiatus from a concussion he suffered, donning a facemask that gave him a similar look to the masked villain from Gotham. Johnson's return could not have come at a better time, as he got the start at the point guard position for Jamari Wheeler.
Johnson hit a three from Columbus as the shot clock wound down halfway through the first half, proving that Meechie’s range truly expands every game. His triple gave Ohio State an 18-16 lead with 8:57 remaining in the first half. Meechie finished with 3 points, 3 assists, 5 rebounds, and only one turnover in 30 minutes.
Bane mask mode: engaged. @MeechieJohnson0 // @SotosShow4 // @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/WSLBFu0UN5— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 28, 2022
Buckeyes lead at the half
After an Ohio State turnover and a Payton Willis three-point attempt went too long, the Buckeyes took a 32-20 lead into the locker room at halftime. In their previous three losses to The Barn, the Buckeyes trailed at the half on each occasion. Branham led all scorers in the first half with 11 points, while Liddell had 9 points and rebounds apiece.
Entering tonight’s contest, the Buckeyes were 10-1 when leading at the half this season and the Gophers were 3-4 when trailing at the half. The Buckeyes also held the Gophers leading scorer Jamison Battle to just three points in the first half. Battle was 1-for-9 from the field and 1-for-4 from three-point range.
up at the break pic.twitter.com/Hb0AHlLTMq— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) January 28, 2022
Liddell hits 1,000 points
There are plenty of things Liddell does well, and scoring the ball is without a doubt the biggest one. Coming into the game, Liddell needed 12 points to hit the 1,000 mark. He had eight shots to do it in the first half but only finished with nine, so he had to wait until the second half to get the milestone completed.
We didn’t have to wait long into the second half to get it, as Liddell got an and-one with 19:05 left in the game to pass 1,000 points. Liddell is the 60th Buckeye to hit the milestone and this also marked his 28th straight game scoring in double figures, which is a pretty remarkable stat in its own right.
1️⃣0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣@EasyE2432 has become the 60th Buckeye in school history to score 1000 career points. #Team123 #GoBucks pic.twitter.com/fHjMJCHvLw— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) January 28, 2022
8-0 run to start the second half
The Buckeyes came out hot in the second half, jumping out to a 38-30 and then 44-35 lead after leading 32-30 at the break. Justin Ahrens knocked down a three, Liddell got an and-one bucket, and Zed Key hit a nice shot of the backboard to open up the half. Kyle Young then cleaned up a Gene Brown miss and scored the putback, giving the Buckeyes a nine-point lead.
Kyle Young is always ready to go
Ohio State super senior and super dad Kyle Young has always been an important piece for the Buckeyes with his hustle, energy and defense, but over the past year he has taken that next step scoring the basketball. He has taken on a different role this season coming off the bench for the Buckeyes, but has been impactful during his 21.8 minutes per game.
Young scored eight straight points in the second half to give the Buckeyes a 48-37 lead and finished with 14 off the bench. He added four rebounds and four assists. Young would finished the game with 14 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and a block in 23 minutes.
8️⃣ STRAIGHT YESSIR @kyle_young25— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) January 28, 2022
OSU 48 | MIN 37 | 14:20 2H pic.twitter.com/CCjwl7yJFg
Offensive rebounding advantage
Ohio State has been criticized this season for giving up too many offensive rebounds, but tonight that problem actually became a strength for Chris Holtmann’s squad.
Halfway through the second half, Ohio State had 18 offensive rebounds while Minnesota had 16 total rebounds. The Buckeyes domianted the glass to the tune of a 48-22 advantage and yanked down a season-high 20 offensive rebounds.
The Buckeyes entered the game averaging 8.4 offensive rebounds per game, which was 12th in the Big Ten. Ohio State also had the advantage in second chance points in the game, 27-4.
Putting them away
With 4:44 remaining in the game, the Buckeyes led 66-57. A few Liddell free throws and a Russell three extended it to 71-57, and the Gophers were buried. The Buckeyes used a few dunks from EJ Liddell in garbage time to put the game away and take the win, 75-64.
The Big Ten schedule is not an easy one and the Buckeyes are in the heart of it right now. Ohio State turns around and will travel on Sunday to one of the toughest places to play in the country, Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana to take on Purdue (16-3, 5-3).
Beating the Boilermakers on their home court will be the toughest test of the season for Ohio State. Led by a big three of Jaden Ivey, Trevion Williams and Zach Edey, they’re a nightmare matchup for everyone they play.
The game will tip off at 12:00 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBS, the Buckeyes first CBS game of the season.