Behind E.J. Liddell, No. 13 Ohio State pulls off comeback win against Penn State

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State Buckeyes guard CJ Walker (13) is fouled by Penn State Nittany Lions forward Seth Lundy (1) while going up for a basket during the first half of their game at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on January 27, 2020.

CJ Walker is in the midst of a career year from the free-throw line. Before No. 13 Ohio State hosted Penn State on Wednesday night at Value City Arena, he offered a challenge to sophomore forward E.J. Liddell.

"He said, 'Can you please go 100% from the line?' " Liddell said. "I told him I had him."

Ohio State basketball:Here's where the Buckeyes sit in NCAA Tournament projections

Liddell finished a perfect 10 for 10 from the line, including four in the final 59.7 seconds, as the Buckeyes built a 12-point lead, fell behind by eight and rallied late for an 83-79 win.

With Penn State ahead 79-77, Justice Sueing hit two free throws with 1:37 to play that tied the game, and after the Buckeyes stripped Seth Lundy of the ball Liddell drew a foul on John Harrar on a jumper with 59.7 seconds and hit both free throws to give Ohio State the 81-79 lead.

It marked the fifth lead change in the final 3:13 of the game. Ohio State (13-4, 7-4 Big Ten) closed on a 6-0 run, erasing a second-half deficit that grew as high as eight points at one point.

"I was just emphasizing in the last four-minute war that it’s winning time," Liddell said. "There’s no better feeling than that."

Liddell led the Buckeyes with 22 points, who trailed by five points with five minutes to play. Sueing had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Lundy finished with a game-high 26 for Penn State (5-7, 2-6).

Ohio State Buckeyes guard Musa Jallow (2) forces a turnover on Penn State Nittany Lions forward Seth Lundy (1) during the second half of their game at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on January 27, 2020.

Sueing also added five steals and two blocks.

"Tonight I touched a little bit of everything and I’m glad we were able to pull through," he said. 

Ohio State has now won five of its last six games. The Buckeyes had lost four of their last five games as a ranked team against an unranked Penn State team.

The Nittany Lions forced Ohio State into a season-high 17 turnovers. 

Up 43-39 at the half, Ohio State opened the second with a CJ Walker three-pointer, but it would be the high point for the Buckeyes. Penn State responded with a 10-0 run and took its first lead of the game with 15:21 left when Myreon Jones lofted a three-pointer from the left corner, right in front of his team’s bench area, that fell through for a 49-46 lead.

Ohio State Buckeyes forward Justin Ahrens (10) watches his three pointer go in against Penn State Nittany Lions guard Izaiah Brockington (12) during the first half of their game at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio on January 27, 2020.

Sueing answered with a three-point play to tie the game, and the teams would trade baskets before Penn State went ahead 55-53 with 13:40 to play on a pair of John Harrar free throws. The Nittany Lion lead would continue grow, reaching eight points at one point.

The Buckeyes would not score a basket that didn’t follow a Penn State make during the second half until E.J. Liddell scored in the paint with 5:29 to play to pull them within 71-68.

"It was a really tightly called game," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "A lot of fouls on our part and we’ve just got to do that better and it impacted what our rotation looked like. We had some odd rotations out there."

Leading 34-30, Ohio State pushed it to an 11-point lead with a 7-0 run late in the first half capped by a CJ Walker full-court drive that ended with a three-point play with 2:18 remaining. The Buckeyes looked to have regained momentum, but the Big Ten’s best team at turning opponents over leaned into that strength to close the half with a flurry.

After a pair of Kyle Young free throws with 42.7 seconds left, Penn State’s Jamari Wheeler stole the ball from Justice Sueing after the Buckeye had stripped Seth Lundy seconds earlier. Wheeler scored off the turnover, and a few seconds later picked the pocket of Ohio State freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. and laid it in for an uncontested layup in the final seconds to pull the Nittany Lions within 43-39 at the half.

Wheeler’s two thefts came during the final 20 seconds of the half.

Ohio State had nine first-half turnovers, allowing Penn State to take a 14-2 advantage in points off turnovers. Wheeler’s personal run gave a boost to teammate Lundy, who had 17 first-half points, two shy of his Big Ten career high.

It all helped answer what had been a strong start for the Buckeyes, who opened the game with a 14-2 run during which Penn State shot two airballs. The Buckeyes got a pair of early three-pointers from Justin Ahrens, a high-flying three-point play by Young who dunked a Duane Washington Jr. three-point miss while being fouled and a three-point play from freshman Zed Key that resulted in his customary “finger guns” celebration.

At the half, Ahrens and Key led the team with nine points apiece.

Both Walker and Young fouled out. 

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy