Men’s Basketball: Northwestern can’t answer No. 13 Ohio State star EJ Liddell’s five-minute explosion in third straight loss


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Pete Nance attempts to direct traffic on offense. Nance and Northwestern couldn’t answer Ohio State star EJ Liddell in a 95-87 loss.

Patrick Andres, Sports Editor

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a basketball team giving up 17 points to one man in a game’s first five minutes is in serious need of defensive help. 

Northwestern (8-5, 1-3 Big Ten) can certainly attest after surrendering 34 points in all to No. 13 Ohio State (10-3, 4-1 Big Ten) forward E.J. Liddell. The All-American candidate’s opening explosion was part and parcel of the Wildcats’ 95-87 loss, their third straight to start the year. 

“Losing E.J. as he made five threes in a row, obviously that wasn’t really the game plan, which was not to let him shoot,” coach Chris Collins said. “But credit to him, he’s a hell of a player and got them off to a great start.

NU won the opening tip, and senior forward Pete Nance immediately missed a three-point jumper. Ohio State forward Kyle Young pulled down the rebound, Liddell hit a jumper, and the Buckeyes were off and running. 

“It’s a difficult loss to us, but credit Ohio State,” Collins said. “They’re a really good team, and obviously they have a lot of veteran guys.”

Liddell, one such veteran, burnt the Cats in every possible fashion. He stroked a three-pointer a minute into the contest to put Ohio State up 5-2. Less than two minutes later, he converted redshirt junior guard Chase Audige’s miss into another one. When the Cats substituted senior guard Ryan Greer in for junior guard Boo Buie after the latter incurred a pair of early fouls, Liddell simply canned another three to give the Buckeyes a 13-4 advantage.

When the dust settled with precisely 15 minutes left in the first half, Ohio State led NU 19-11. Every Buckeyes point came from Liddell’s hot hand except for two, scored via a layup from guard Malaki Branham. Liddell’s five three-pointers were already a career high, surpassing a four-trey outing against Illinois on Jan. 16, 2021.

The kicker for the Cats was the fact Liddell didn’t miss a beat despite the noteworthy absence of his coach. Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann missed the game due to COVID-19 considerations, and assistant Jake Diebler served as acting head coach.

“Give credit to their staff, and give credit to their players,” Collins said. “They really stepped up and played well and got the job done today.”

Liddell continued to fill up the stat sheet in the game’s final 35 minutes, as the Belleville, Ill. native pulled down four rebounds, gave out two assists, and blocked five shots. During one key sequence in the first half, he smothered sophomore guard Ty Berry’s layup attempt and the Buckeyes immediately converted it into a three-pointer by guard Cedric Russell. 

However, he mustered “only” 17 more points, finishing with a career high even as NU clamped down on him in the second half with varying degrees of success.

“I challenged our guys at halftime to play with more toughness and with more physicality in the second half on both ends of the floor,” Collins said. “I thought we did some really good things.”

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Twitter: @pandres2001

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