Men's basketball notebook: E.J. Liddell, Musa Jallow spark Ohio State in Notre Dame win, but work remains
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Long-term, there are some defensive concerns that figure to only grow. Same, too, with some offensive struggles around the rim.
But when it comes to the final minute of what would be a 90-85 win for No. 22 Ohio State at Notre Dame, there was a lot of what coach Chris Holtmann will need from his team if it wants to keep pace near the top of the Big Ten this season.
Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, the Buckeyes had rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit and held the ball and a three-point lead when, with the shot clock about to buzz and the primary option denied, sophomore E.J. Liddell decided to just shoot the ball himself. When it went down with 50 seconds left, it was a two-possession Ohio State lead and the drama was just beginning.
In the final 17.6 seconds, senior guard CJ Walker would hit all four of his free-throw attempts and force the decisive Notre Dame turnover by knocking the ball off of Prentiss Hubb’s foot and out of bounds with 2.1 seconds left to set the final margin.
Watch:Ohio State's Seth Towns kneels for national anthem at Notre Dame
The sequence made for a thrilling end to a game that, according to KenPom.com, the Buckeyes only had a 22.9% chance of winning once they fell behind by 11 points.
“We were switching, at least I was switching most of the screens for pretty much the whole game,” junior Musa Jallow, who played 22 minutes off the bench and was on the court for that possession, said. “We knew they had to get a three up. I knew Hubb was going to try to get off a three so make sure I stay in front of him, play token D, stay in front of him and make sure he didn’t get a shot up.
“Walker made a huge play, deflecting that ball off of him. Walker is super aggressive on the ball and that gets me going, too.”
In all, Ohio State scored on its final seven possessions of the game to keep the Irish at bay. It earned a win on a night where the Irish made more than half their field goals and won the rebounding battle thanks to a lot of little contributions along the way, a big night from Liddell and enough defense at key moments to hang on.
This marked the first true test for the Buckeyes this season. Their first three wins came against teams with an average national ranking of 254 according to KenPom, and while Notre Dame is not projected among the ACC’s elite this season, it marked a road game against a high-major opponent.
“We had a lot of guys step up,” Holtmann said. “I thought our performance in the second half was considerably better. We moved the ball. We played together more on both ends in the second half. They’re really a difficult guard and we struggled guarding them, quite honestly, for the whole game. We’re going to have to get better at that.”
The Fighting Irish don’t have a deep roster. They entered the game with five players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, two others averaging between 10 and 15 minutes and that’s it. Notre Dame had only played two games, but they had been able to utilize a tight rotation because they had committed a total of 23 team fouls and allowed opponents to shoot 35 free throws.
Ohio State would make 21 of 24 free throws and draw 14 fouls, helping alter the complexion of the game. It was something Holtmann said he wasn’t sure his team would be capable of doing to the Irish.
“Justice (Sueing) does it pretty well,” he said. “E.J. does it pretty well. The fact that we were able to get there with those two guys who are important offensive players, that’s what they do. Duane (Washington Jr.) getting there a few times was good. I wouldn’t have guessed that we would’ve gotten there as much as we did.”
Walker was 8 for 8. Liddell was 5 for 5. Sueing was 3 for 4 and Washington was perfect on two attempts. Of their 24 free throws, 18 came in the second half.
The Buckeyes were able to foul out senior center Juwan Durham, who had just one foul at the half but sat for the night with 8:44 to play and Ohio State ahead 61-60. Liddell scored 11 of his career-high 19 points once Durham fouled out.
“It helped certainly on our offensive end, (having Durham out of the game),” Holtmann said. “I think in some ways them playing (Nate Laszewski) at the offensive end made it difficult for us. To be able to get that fifth foul on (Durham), he’s a terrific shot blocker. He’s got great size and length and we’re going to see a lot of those guys in the Big Ten. We were struggling scoring over him.”
Laszewski finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, tying Durham for the game-high total in the latter category.
Ohio State is 25th nationally in percentage of points from the free-throw line (25.7%).
Although Notre Dame took a 42-34 lead into the half after the Buckeyes allowed an 8-0 run during the final 2:18, it could have been a lot worse had the Buckeyes not gotten contributions from multiple players.
Junior Justin Ahrens led the way, hitting his first three three-pointers for nine points. He would finish with 12 points. Jallow had two points and one rebound and played solid defense, while freshman Gene Brown had a point and an important offensive rebound in five minutes.
It doesn’t sound like much, but all three were impactful.
“Gene’s offensive rebound and defensive presence, not to mention the play of Justin,” Holtmann said. “I don’t want to discount those guys right now. Gene came in and did a great job for us. So did Jimmy in limited minutes. They’ve got to continue to do that. I thought both of them played their role really well. Our bench was tremendous, both the bench energy as well as the contributions was great.”
Bucknell transfer guard Jimmy Sotos played just one minute during the first half, but in his four second-half minutes he hit a three-pointer three possessions after Notre Dame had built its 11-point lead that helped pull Ohio State within four points at 55-51.
Look for more on Jallow’s night soon here on BuckeyeXtra.com.
By the numbers
* Ohio State’s 90 points are the most it has ever scored in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It just tops the previous team record of 89, scoring in a losing effort but otherwise memorable game: a 98-89 loss at No. 7 North Carolina. Ohio State entered that game ranked No. 3.
* The Buckeyes have now won two straight in the annual event after having lost five straight. They are 9-11 all-time.
* This was the first time Ohio State had played Notre Dame in the event. In all, the two teams have met 14 times and Ohio State is 9-5, having won three straight.
* Six of those 14 games have come since 1970. Ohio State is 4-2 in those six games that have been decided by a combined 26 points (4.3 points per game). The biggest win in that stretch was an 81-75 Ohio State overtime win at Purcell Pavilion on Dec. 4, 1972.
* Notre Dame’s last win against the Buckeyes came in the 1999-2000 season opener, when the unranked Fighting Irish knocked off No. 4 Ohio State 59-57 in the preseason NIT on Nov. 16, 1999.
* The last time they played each other, Ohio State won, 64-61 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21, 2013.
* This is the first time the Buckeyes have won in consecutive road games in the event.
“It’s not like playing on the road against a Notre Dame team, the caliber they are, at a full house that they would have. It’s not that. I’ll be the first to admit that. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to appreciate it, but when they were up 11 in the second half or making runs like they were, there was some energy. There was some fans in the building and you heard them. Having said that, we certainly won’t give it back. We’ll appreciate it for what it is.” – Holtmann
“It’s a big win and it’s a good level of competition to set us up going into Big Ten. They had some fans there chirping at us, so that was a good thing to get out of the way for the first time. Just a good, tough win to gut it out. It shows the younger guys what it takes to win.” – Jallow