Indiana's defense stymies E.J. Liddell, Buckeyes in decisive Big Ten win
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Even the slightest glimmer of daylight looked contested for Ohio State.
Riding a five-game winning streak and looking for a 4-0 start to Big Ten play, the No. 13 Buckeyes ran into the league’s best defense at Assembly Hall. With the Hoosiers leading 47-45 near the midpoint of the second half, Ohio State ran a baseline out-of-bounds play designed to get the ball into E.J. Liddell’s hands. It worked, and for the first time all game the player who has emerged as a national player of the year candidate got downhill going to his left.
He reached the block and might have had a look at the rim. But the pressure on his hip forced him to stop short, and when he attempted to fire a pass back upcourt it was easily nabbed by the Hoosiers. They hit two free throws to push the lead back to four points, and on a night where nothing came easily to the Buckeyes that would be enough.
Trayce Jackson-Davis dominated his matchup with Liddell, who struggled for a second straight game since Ohio State endured a 22-day COVID-19 pause, and Indiana (11-3, 2-2 Big Ten) handed the Buckeyes (9-3, 3-1) their first loss since Nov. 24, 67-51.
Ohio State's first two losses were by a combined nine points. This was different. The Buckeyes briefly took a one-point lead on back-to-back 3s from Liddell and Malaki Branham early in the second half, but Jackson-Davis reclaimed the lead after Ohio State turned it over on consecutive possessions with a left-handed hook shot over Zed Key with 16:49 to play, and Indiana would hold the lead from there.
A late 13-0 run removed all doubt for Indiana, which picked up its first win as an unranked team against a top-15 Ohio State team since Jan. 4, 1989.
Jackson-Davis had 27 points, 12 rebounds and five rebounds to lead everyone as the Hoosiers outscored the Buckeyes 38-10 in the paint.
"Give Indiana credit," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "I thought they really played well. We obviously have to do some things a lot better, but I want to give them credit."
Ohio State's 51 points were 14 below its previous season low. It's the fewest points scored by the Buckeyes since a 68-50 loss at Northwestern on March 6, 2019.
Indiana closed the game on a 15-3 run and held Ohio State to 26.1% (6 for 23) shooting with 10 turnovers during the second half. Most telling: The Buckeyes were just 1 for 9 from inside the 3-point line after halftime
"They certainly controlled the paint, both offensively and defensively," Holtmann said. "I thought E.J. got bodied and knocked off a couple of his shots, but he’s also got to kind of play through not contact but play to score the ball. In general, we’ve got to find ways to put him in better spots, but the paint was the difference for sure."
Freshman guard Malaki Branham initially picked up right where he left off after torching Nebraska for 35 points Sunday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Branham hit his first three shots, and his assist to E.J. Liddell meant he had a direct hand in Ohio State’s first eight points.
When graduate center Joey Brunk, who spent the last two seasons with the Hoosiers, connected on a baseline right-handed hook shot to give Ohio State a 15-7 lead, Indiana called timeout with 12:06 left in the half. Heading back to the bench area, Brunk flexed and screamed at his current teammates as the home crowd booed.
Everything got harder from there, and the Hoosiers got going behind Jackson-Davis. He would score 13 of Indiana’s next 21 points to close the half, most of them on powerful slam dunks, as Indiana otherwise stagnated the Ohio State offense. In the final seconds of the half, Xavier Johnson hit a deep jumper to give the Hoosiers a 33-30 lead after the Buckeyes missed eight of their final nine shots of the half.
Branham, after hitting his first three shots, missed his final six of the half. He finished with a team-high 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Liddell had a team-high nine rebounds but finished with 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting, making him 5 for 26 (19.2%) from the field in the two games since coming back from the pause.
"A lot is going to run through E.J.," second-year guard Meechie Johnson Jr. said. "He’s going to have a tough night like this. It’s important for a lot of us to step up and be ready for those moments. There’s no excuses. When moments like this happen you’ve got to be ready."
Former Ohio State coach Thad Matta, the program’s all-time winningest coach whose name hangs in the rafters at Value City Arena, took in the game from the scorers’ table near the Indiana bench. He’s in his first season as Indiana’s associate athletic director for men’s basketball and spent some time before the game meeting with Chris Holtmann inside the Ohio State locker room.