Ohio State basketball celebrates E.J. Liddell's accomplishment in win at Minnesota

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

MINNEAPOLIS — The hallway outside the visitors’ locker room at Williams Arena doesn’t offer much in the way of elbow room. So as E.J. Liddell stood with his back against a plain, white wall while speaking with a reporter, teammates Jamari Wheeler and Jimmy Sotos had to crouch down to avoid getting in the way of the camera shot.

Squeezing their way through, they made sure that at least their voices were picked up by the camera.

“That’s just the GOAT,” Wheeler said, hardly breaking stride as he breezed past. “Best player in the Big Ten.”

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It was the latest in a string of milestone games for the first-team all-Big Ten forward. Fifty-one seconds into the second half, Liddell finished a three-point play that gave him 12 points in the game and an even 1,000 for his career. He would end the night with a game-high 23 on 9-of-14 shooting, but it wasn’t just the scoring that helped propel No. 16 Ohio State (13-4, 6-2 Big Ten) to a 75-64 win Thursday.

Thursday against Minnesota, Ohio State's E.J. Liddell scored 23 points, surpassing 1,000 points for his OSU career in the process. He also grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds.

It was a career-high 15 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive glass.

“Congratulations to him,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “I’m so happy for him. He’s had a phenomenal career. He’s led this team in a really special way along with Kyle and Justin and Jamari. Ironically, it was his best rebounding performance that he’s had here.”

At the half, Liddell had nearly matched Minnesota’s team-rebounding total. He had nine; the Golden Gophers (11-6, 2-6) had 13. The player and his opponent were even in offensive rebounds with five apiece. By the end, the Buckeyes held a 48-22 rebounding advantage, 20 of which were offensive rebounds.

Ohio State grabbed 55.6% of its misses, its best percentage since pulling down 57.5% against Marshall on Nov. 25, 2016. The Buckeyes turned those 20 offensive rebounds into 27 second-chance points.

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"That’s been a thing for us every day,” Kyle Young, who had 14 points, four rebounds, a season-high four assists and no turnovers, said. “In practice especially, we’ve put in new drills, everything for us bigs. I think that’s definitely helped us a little bit. We’ve been emphasizing that all season, but especially as of lately.”

Ohio State's E.J. Liddell had 15 rebounds against Minnesota on a night when the Buckeyes grabbed 20 rebounds off the offensive glass. That translates to rebounding 55.6% of the shots they missed.

The postgame emphasis, though, was on Liddell and his milestone. He’s the 60th Ohio State player to get to 1,000 points. With 1,011 career points, Liddell is now 57th in career scoring, three points behind Lenzelle Smith Jr.

When he sunk the free throw, Liddell briefly pointed to the sky as he headed back down the court and several of his teammates erupted in applause from their seats below the raised court at Williams Arena.

“I kind of was aware during the game,” he said. “I don’t usually keep track of my points during the game, but I was aware a little bit this game. When I got it, I just pointed to the sky and thanked God for everything. This has been special, and it’s been a special ride, but I’ve still got a lot more in me, a lot more season left. This is an awesome milestone.”

It wasn’t the only milestone of the night. Liddell’s fourth double-double of the season, the highest total of his career, helped coach Chris Holtmann reach 100 career wins with the Buckeyes. He’s the third-fastest coach to get there, outpaced by only Fred Taylor and Thad Matta.

The two numbers were meaningful to Holtmann, but not as much as the 11-point win that moved the Buckeyes to 13-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten.

“Maybe they’ll grab a (game) ball,” Holtmann said. “I do have (keepsake) balls that signify wins, but I’m really happy for E.J. I’m really happy for our team. At some point, I’ll take a moment to think about it. I love coaching this group, and I’ve loved coaching at Ohio State. I’ve loved being here. Hopefully, we can lead them to more wins.”

The next chance comes Sunday with a showdown at No. 6 Purdue.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy