Ohio State in search of help for E.J. Liddell after opening-game close shave
There are limits to what should realistically be expected from even a player considered to be among the nation’s best.
Tuesday night at Value City Arena, E.J. Liddell got a pretty good feel for what those limits are. In a 67-66 win against Akron at Value City Arena, the third-year forward led No. 17 Ohio State in points (25) and rebounds (11) and tied for the team lead in assists (three). After the game, coach Chris Holtmann said that Liddell put on a performance worthy of a player who will remain in the conversation for significant national honors all season.
But as the Buckeyes prepare to host Niagara Friday night, Liddell could use a little more help, and his coach knows it.
“As we get a little bit healthier, and as our guards get more comfortable, they will give us more offensively,” Holtmann said. “As they get more comfortable, you’ll see that load not need to be as heavy. That needs to be the case. We need to have a little more balance.”
Of his 30:09 on the court, Liddell spent 22:11 of it playing power forward alongside either Zed Key or Joey Brunk. He was at center for 7:58, and when he was there, Ohio State was plus-5 (17 points scored, 12 allowed). When he was at power forward, Ohio State was outscored 38-36 (minus-2).
The obvious glaring area of concern is the backcourt, where starting guards Jamari Wheeler and Meechie Johnson combined to go 0 for 6 from the floor with one assist and two turnovers. But just as important is the status of fifth-year forwards Justice Sueing and Kyle Young.
Sueing came off the bench and played 14:30 in the opener but looked little like the player who finished third on the team in scoring last season. A persistent groin injury that affected him during the postseason has limited his practice availability, and his rustiness was on full display as he went 1 for 7 from the floor with only three rebounds and no foul shots. When healthy, he is expected to contribute on the wing and in the backcourt as a primary playmaker.
“He’s not his normal self,” Holtmann said. “It’s not like he’s going to be his normal self (Friday) night. He’s got to inch forward and get better. That’s the reality of where he is right now. You can’t have the overall absences he’s had and expect him to be as smooth as he was at the end of last season.”
Young, however, has not participated in the team’s closed scrimmage, public exhibition or the opener while dealing with a vestibular dysfunction that has left him with symptoms similar to vertigo. He has been working his way back to action, and his status for the Niagara game will be determined based on how he responds to Friday’s practice, Holtmann said.
The return of either or both to full health would take some of the pressure off of Liddell, whose opening-game performance has him atop the national player of the year algorithm at KenPom.com. Those are the standards to which Liddell said he’s holding himself.
“We’ve just got to get a rhythm,” he said after the Akron game. “When I’m off the floor I feel like we’ve got to communicate more. All the other leaders and captains need to step up. I know Kyle’s out right now, so he’s a big piece of all of that.”
Maybe not for much longer, though. If Young doesn’t play against Niagara, he’s likely to debut Monday against Bowling Green.
Chris Holtmann addresses five-man 2022 recruiting class
Led by point guard Bruce Thornton and center Felix Okpara, Holtmann said he’s excited about the five recruits signed to the program Wednesday.
“It’s certainly a class that I think moving forward is one we can look back to and feel like it was instrumental in a lot of success,” Holtmann said. “It gives us a lot of excitement moving forward with the combination of guys that have won at a high level, really competitive, some multi-positional guys and a point guard in Bruce and a 5 that we really haven’t had in Felix that can really address some needs.”
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Although it will remain unclear how many roster spots the Buckeyes will have for the 2022-23 season until a few weeks after this season ends, Holtmann said he expects the Buckeyes will need to add one or two transfers during the spring as well.