His left cheek sporting a fresh scratch and the white stitching on his jersey bloodied, E.J. Liddell had done what he could.
It was late Thursday at Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and Ohio State’s freshman forward had scored a career-high 17 points in a losing effort against the Hawkeyes. He had proved his mettle and emerged with a battle scar.
Now the Buckeyes might need all of that and more. After junior forward Kyle Young left a win Sunday over No. 7 Maryland with what coach Chris Holtmann described on Monday as a "pretty significant" right ankle sprain, all signs point toward Liddell needing to shoulder a heavier load should Young have to miss extended action.
No. 23 Ohio State plays Thursday at Nebraska.
It’s not so much the 17 points Liddell scored against the Hawkeyes that Holtmann is hoping for. It’s more the three second-half offensive rebounds he pulled down.
"I thought E.J. Liddell was critical in the second half with offensive rebounding against the zone, and then he challenged a couple of their three attempts," Holtmann said after a 79-72 win over Maryland. "E.J. will have to be that for us. I thought his minutes were critical for us, especially against their zone."
Holtmann said Young did not practice between the Iowa and Maryland games because he was dealing with swelling in his ankle because of the boot he’s been wearing while not practicing. The boot has somewhat changed Young’s gait, as well, Holtmann said.
"He has not really practiced for us consistently in about a month and a half," Holtmann said. "He has had moments where it’s bothered him. Overall, he’s been really good. He’s a really important part of our team. We’ll see what that means for Thursday’s game."
All of this has come while Young has continued to progress from an appendectomy he underwent Dec. 29, hours after he grabbed 11 rebounds in a loss to West Virginia in Cleveland.
In 25 games, all starts, Young has averaged 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. Both totals are career highs. Without Young, Holtmann went with a six-man rotation that featured Liddell for the second half of Sunday’s win.
Although he only had two points against Maryland, the 6-foot-6 freshman is averaging 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds. Holtmann has consistently said that Liddell’s production would improve when his motor and physicality would lead the way. After the Iowa game, Liddell said he had no idea how he earned the scrape on his face.
"I think it was because we were down there with the ball and they were swiping a lot, making us lose the ball a lot," Liddell said. "I think it was down there in the post one time."
It probably won’t be the last.