Ohio State's E.J. Liddell, Malaki Branham earn all-Big Ten honors
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell has been named first-team All-Big Ten, and freshman Malaki Branham was named the league's freshmen of the year by both the coaches and media.
Liddell is the first Ohio State player to repeat as first-team All-Big Ten since Jared Sullinger in 2011 and 2012. Last season, league coaches awarded Liddell first-team honors while the media named him to the second team.
The Buckeyes have now had 19 first-team all-conference selections.
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Branham is Ohio State’s first Big Ten freshman of the year since D’Angelo Russell in 2015 and Ohio State’s eighth overall. He was also named third-team all-league, and Liddell was picked for the all-defensive team.
Liddell joined Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis, Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Iowa’s Keegan Murray on the first team as voted by both coaches and media. Cockburn and Murray were both unanimous selections, while Davis was a unanimous coaches' choice.
Davis was named Big Ten player of the year.
No other Ohio State players were picked to the three all-league teams or received honorable mention honors.
After averaging 16.2 points and 6.7 rebounds as a sophomore, Liddell explored entering the NBA draft and worked out for multiple teams before opting to return for another season with the Buckeyes. In doing so, he became the first Ohio State player to return after being named first-team All-Big Ten since Aaron Craft was honored in 2013.
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Voted one of four team captains, Liddell enters the postseason averaging 19.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, both team highs, and he has scored in double figures in 40 straight games. The 6-7, 240-pound forward leads the Big Ten with 2.6 blocks per game and rejected a career-high eight in a Nov. 18 loss at Xavier. Liddell has recorded seven of his 11 career double-doubles this season, including a 16-point, 13-rebound performance in Sunday’s loss to Michigan in the regular-season finale.
Liddell is one of three players since 1993 to average at least 19.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.5 assists per game, joining Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan (1996-97) and Rider’s Jason Thompson (2007-08). He is tied with Granville Waiters for seventh in career blocks at Ohio State (136) and sits tied with Kaleb Wesson (2018-20) and Ron Stokes (1982-85) for 35th in career scoring at 1,240 points.
Branham has emerged as a go-to scoring option and complement to Liddell’s post play. In the season-opening game against Akron, the coaches put the ball in Branham’s hands and trusted him to make the right read on the final possession. He dished the ball to Zed Key for the game-winning bucket. It was after the team’s 22-day COVID-19 pause that Branham’s prolific scoring began to emerge.
In a Jan. 2 overtime road win against Nebraska, Branham poured in 35 points to help the Buckeyes fend off the upset. It marked the second-most points ever scored by an Ohio State freshman, behind Jared Sullinger's 40-point effort against IUPUI on Dec. 9, 2010. It was the highest total by an OSU freshman in a Big Ten game.
In the last 19 games, Branham has averaged 16.9 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 53.2% (115 of 216) from the floor. For the season, Branham averaged 13.2 points and 3.6 rebounds and shot 49.1% (139 for 283) from the field and 43.6% (34 for 78) from 3-point range.
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Senior Justin Ahrens was named the team's Big Ten sportsmanship award recipient.