No. 17 Ohio State found itself locked into another dogfight Friday, but thanks to the efforts of junior forward E.J. Liddell and a second-half surge, the Buckeyes put away Niagara 84-74.
The Buckeyes (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) prevailed despite early defensive struggles, which the Purple Eagles (0-2, 0-0 MAAC) exploited to keep the game close throughout the first 30 minutes.
Friday night’s contest was largely a two-man battle between Liddell and Niagara senior guard Marcus Hammond.
While Liddell led the Buckeyes behind a career-high 29 points, on 60 percent from the field, and five rebounds, Hammond paced him with 22 points of his own. Hammond added six rebounds and three assists.
It was a tight battle in the game’s opening half, as neither team led by more than six points in the first 20 minutes.The Buckeyes’ offense connected on 50 percent of their first-half attempts, while the Purple Eagles shot a blistering 64 percent from three in the opening frame.
Niagara’s hot night from three continued in the second half, where they shot 45.5 percent. The Purple Eagles finished the night 11-for-21 from three.
Although Liddell’s offensive prowess was on full display against the Purple Eagles, he stepped on the defensive end as well — turning away four shots.
Liddell’s defensive effort was supported by graduate transfer guard Jamari Wheeler, who nabbed two steals. Wheeler started quiet offensively, though, as he was held scoreless until 7:27 remained in the game.
Wheeler drilled back-to-back threes down the stretch to help the Buckeyes push their lead to double-digits. The Live Oak, Florida, native finished with nine points.
While Wheeler struggled to find offense early, freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. had a solid outing off the bench, adding seven points on 2-for-5 shooting from three. Johnson’s efforts helped the Buckeyes reserves outscore the Purple Eagles’ bench 22-11.
Despite getting to the charity stripe for 30 free throw attempts, the Buckeyes left 10 points on the board while shooting 67 percent from the line. On the flip side, Ohio State allowed the Purple Eagles to take 20 foul shots, which they shot 75 percent off of.
Graduate forward Kyle Young made his first appearance of the season, after missing the season-opener following a vestibular dysfunction diagnosis. Despite playing just 22 minutes, the Canton, Ohio, native dropped five points — with help from a pair of tone-setting dunks — and added seven boards.
Young’s efforts on the boards helped give the Buckeyes a rebounding advantage, as the Purple Eagles out-rebounded Ohio State 34-31. Sophomore forward Zed Key led the Buckeyes with seven rebounds.
Outside of Hammond, the Purple Eagles’ offense was supported by graduate forwards Jordan Cintron — who put up 17 points on 62.5 percent from the field — and Sam Iorio, who added 18 points alongside six boards.
Ohio State returns to action Monday when it hosts Bowling Green at 6:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.