Kyle Young returns, E.J. Liddell leads again as Ohio State fends off Niagara

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) shoots the ball during the OSU mens basketball game against Niagara in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

His presence was enough, but Kyle Young gave the home fans at Value City Arena something else to cheer for.

After missing the season opener and much of the preseason with a vestibular dysfunction, the fifth-year senior forward made his season debut a little more than five minutes into Friday night's game against Niagara. The captain and fan favorite received a nice ovation from the crowd as he subbed into the game with the Buckeyes down 14-10 early.

Ten seconds later, he had them roaring when he took a Jamari Wheeler pass and slammed it home for his first points of the season. 

It wouldn't all be that pretty for stretches, but the Buckeyes did enough to improve to 2-0 with an 84-74 against a Niagara team coached by former Ohio State assistant coach Greg Paulus.

"It felt amazing," Young said of the reception the fans delivered. "Coming back for this fifth year, that’s a huge reason why I came back was for these fans and for Ohio State. Seeing that respect right there, it felt pretty good."

Ahead by just one at the half, Ohio State (2-0) opened the second with a 6-0 run starting with a bucket from Malaki Branham on a nice feed from Jamari Wheeler. E.J. Liddell added a pair of buckets near the rim, and the Buckeyes finally started to open up some breathing room against the Purple Eagles (0-2).

Ohio State Buckeyes guard Malaki Branham (22) dribbles the ball passed Niagara Purple Eagles guard Marcus Hammond (10) during the OSU mens basketball game in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.
Ohio State Buckeyes forward Kyle Young (25) dunks the ball during the OSU mens basketball game against Niagara in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

Niagara would keep punching, whittling it back down to two points at one point, but Ohio State’s lead would reach double figures for the first time on a Justin Ahrens 3-pointer with 14:40 left. And while the visitors kept it from getting out of hand, the Buckeyes were never seriously threatened from there.

Liddell finished with a career-high 29 points after scoring 25 in the opener against Akron. Zed Key had 11 and Justice Sueing, who looked much more in sync than the opener while dealing with a nagging groin injury, had 10.

"He’s just playing the game and playing the game the way it is," Holtmann said of Liddell. "I think he’s being aggressive. He’s got to turn it over a little less, but he’s had a great start offensively here."

Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) takes a shot against Niagara Purple Eagles forward Jordan Cintron (5) during the OSU mens basketball game against Niagara in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

After the Purple Eagles opened up a 14-8 early lead thanks to 12 points from Marcus Hammond, the Buckeyes attempted to take control with a high-flying sequence of dunks, threes and emotion. With 14:41 left in the half, Young made his season debut after a vestibular dysfunction sidelined him for much of the preseason and immediately took a lob from Jamari Wheeler and slammed home his first points of the season on a backdoor cut.

It was the second of six straight possessions on which the Buckeyes scored, and they got a little bit of everything along the way. Liddell had a drive, hit three free throws on another possession and threw down a lob from Justin Ahrens on still another. Ahrens hit a three, Liddell nailed a jumper against a zone defense and the Ohio State offense was rolling.

Ohio State basketball:Video of Chris Holtmann's full postgame press conference

Ohio State basketball:Full video of Jamari Wheeler and Kyle Young's postgame press conference

The problem was the defense didn’t come along. Those six possessions only saw Ohio State eke out a 23-19 lead, and it was immediately cut to one on a three-point play from Sam Ilrio. The Buckeyes would push it to 34-30, extending the stretch to points on 10 of 12 possessions, but then the wheels came off for a while.

Starting with a Liddell strip, Ohio State turned the ball over on four straight possessions and went 4:34 without scoring as Niagara turned the 34-30 deficit into a 37-34 lead. Zed Key finally broke the ice with a putback of an Ahrens miss with 3:50 left in the half to pull Ohio State within 37-36.

Buckeyes basketball:Ohio State in search of help for E.J. Liddell after opening-game close shave

A pair of Justice Sueing free throws with 8.4 seconds left put the Buckeyes ahead 42-39, but the Purple Eagles inbounded the ball, pushed it up the court and got a layup from Noah Thomasson right before the buzzer to set the halftime score at 42-41. Against a team picked to finish sixth in 11-member Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason coaches’ poll, Ohio State led by no more than four points during the half.

At that point, Liddell had 18 and Hammond had 16.

"Ohio State’s a terrific team," Paulus said. They’re well-coached. A lot of talent. A lot of depth. For us, I was proud of the effort and resiliency. I thought that this game, we took another step forward as a team and were able to learn a lot about our group."

Ohio State was without graduate transfer guard Cedric Russell, who was away due to a death in his family. Branham made his first career start, replacing Meechie Johnson Jr., who started the opener.


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