After stinging loss to Michigan State, E.J. Liddell, Ohio State, turn focus to Iowa

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State sophomore E.J. Liddell scored 18 points in the Buckeyes' physical loss to Michigan State on Thursday, but he feels he could have done better playing through contact.

If you’re sitting down to play a game of Monopoly with E.J. Liddell, you’d better clear your calendar.

Widely known as a tough competitor, the Ohio State men’s basketball sophomore plays to win regardless of the challenge. That includes interminably long board games like Monopoly which, if Liddell loses, immediately results in a demand for a rematch.

When the No. 4 Buckeyes took an emotional — and controversial — 71-67 loss at Michigan State on Thursday night, those same feelings came bubbling to the surface.

How much did a loss during which he scored 18 points, 10 of which came from the free-throw line, bother Liddell?

“On another level,” he told The Dispatch after the game. “I don’t like losing anyway, but this doesn’t sit right with me.”

He wasn’t alone in feeling that way. In a physical showdown with the Spartans, the Buckeyes were held to their lowest scoring output since a 67-65 home loss to Purdue on Jan. 19. Both coaches were justifiably angry with what was a rough night for the officials, and by the end Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann had been ejected with 1.4 seconds remaining for picking up a second technical foul.

Along the way, Liddell would struggle against a Michigan State frontcourt that rotated in multiple players against him, resulting in a 4-for-13 shooting performance.

“A loss is a loss no matter who you lose against,” he said. “I hate losing no matter how much it’s by. This one just stung a little different because I felt like I could’ve done more. Just things didn’t go my way tonight.”

That comeback vibe is one the Buckeyes are hoping to take to Value City Arena on Sunday afternoon. Now saddled with their first losing streak of the season, they will host No. 9 Iowa, which spent Thursday night absorbing a 22-point beating administered by No. 3 Michigan.

Ohio State won the first meeting against Iowa this season, an 89-85 thriller played during an early February blizzard at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Liddell was one of three Buckeyes to finish with 16 points in that game while also helping to hold the likely Big Ten and national player of the year Luka Garza to 16 points, well below his season average of 24.3.

After back-to-back losses to Michigan and Michigan State, senior guard CJ Walker said Ohio State needs to refocus its energy defensively, starting Sunday against Iowa.

After the loss to Michigan State, fifth-year senior guard CJ Walker said he spoke a few words in what was an otherwise quiet locker room about what lies ahead. After Iowa, the Buckeyes will close the season against No. 5 Illinois next Saturday before entering postseason play.

“We’ve got to get better,” he said. “We’ve got to refocus, get better defensively. I take it upon myself as a leader to get better down the stretch with two really good games coming up.”

The Hawkeyes will be without their leading bench scorer and rebounder, redshirt sophomore forward Jack Nunge, who suffered a season-ending torn meniscus in his right knee during the loss to the Wolverines. Nunge had averaged 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22 games this season. Iowa starting guard Connor McCaffrey also rolled an ankle during the game and sat out the remainder. His status for the game is unknown.

It’s also unclear if the Buckeyes will have senior forward Kyle Young back in action. He did not play against the Spartans after suffering a concussion against Michigan last Sunday, and Holtmann said after Thursday’s game that they would have a better idea of his status for the Iowa game on Friday. Ohio State held no interviews in between games and has not released any further update on his status.

“Everybody knows how important Kyle is,” Liddell said. “This is not the time to fold or to forget about everything we have done this whole season. This season still has a long way to go. Two more regular-season games and we can’t just go back on what we’ve done in the past.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Iowa 

When: 4 p.m. Sunday 

TV: CBS (Ch. 10)

Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)