COLUMBUS — Playing in their second consecutive game inside the Covelli Center rather than Value City Arena, No. 23 Ohio State cruised to a 77-44 win over Morehead State on Wednesday evening to improve to 3-0 on the season.
Sophomore forward E.J. Liddell led all scorers with 16 points, and he added seven rebounds to pace the Buckeyes. Duane Washington Jr., C.J. Walker, and Justice Sueing each added 11 points.
Just two players managed to score double figures for Morehead State (1-3) as Skyelar Potter scored a team-high 13 points to lead the Eagles and DeVon Cooper chipped in 11 points. Making shots proved to be a significant challenge as the Eagles shot just 25 percent on the night, including a 4-30 effort in the second half.
Ohio State jumped out to an early 6-2 lead following jumpers by Liddell and Walker, and a pair of free throws from Kyle Young. Morehead State would answer with a jumper from Cooper and a three-pointer from Ta’lon Cooper to capture its first lead of the game at 7-6 with 15:19 remaining in the first half.
Facing a heavy dose of zone defense for the second consecutive game, the Buckeyes’ struggles from deep carried over from Sunday, when they went just 4-18 from three in their win over UMass-Lowell. The Buckeyes missed on their first six attempts from three on Wednesday night, but while the long ball was not falling, success was found from the midrange.
Washington Jr.’s jumper recaptured the lead for Ohio State at the 14:15 mark, and Sueing pushed the lead to three at 10-7 with a jumper of his own, the first points of the night for the transfer from Cal.
Ohio State appeared poised to stretch out its first-half lead following a five-point spurt near the midway mark of the first half. Eugene Brown III’s jumper increased the lead to five, and following a steal and pull-up three from Walker, Morehead State head coach Preston Spradlin was forced to call a timeout in an attempt to stem the tide as the lead grew to 17-9.
The timeout served Morehead State well as it found a spurt of its own out of the break, getting a layup from Potter and a three from Cooper to get to within three points at 17-14 with just over nine minutes remaining in the opening period.
From there, Ohio State would begin to assert full control on Morehead State, however, led by Liddell’s impressive showing.
A pair of free throws from the sophomore had the Buckeyes up, 21-14, with under eight minutes remaining in the half. Liddell’s layup at the five-minute marked capped off a 13-4 run by Ohio State, giving the Buckeyes their largest lead of the first half at 30-18 and full control of the contest.
Ohio State’s first-half lead would grow to as many as 13 points following Liddell’s jumper with 1:11 remaining, but Julius Dixon’s made three-pointer cut into the Eagles’ deficit and sent the Buckeyes into the locker room with a 10-point lead at 37-27.
Liddell’s 12 first-half points led the way for Ohio State, which shot 40 percent as a team, but just 25 percent from three. Sueing and Walker each added seven points for the Buckeyes in the opening period.
A quick 7-2 run by Ohio State to open the second half had the Buckeyes out in front by 15 points, and the margin would hover around 15 points for most of the half before Ohio State put the game away over the final stretch. A three-pointer by Potter got Morehead State to within 12 points with 13 minutes to play, but it would get no closer as the team went ice-cold from there, missing its final 11 shots.
Sueing’s jumper and Young’s three-pointer increased the Buckeyes’ lead to 19 points at 56-37 with just over eight minutes to play, and the margin would only continue to grow as the final minutes ticked off the clock.
Ohio State poured it on late in the game as it began to heat up from the three-point line. Justin Ahrens connected on a transition three and a 26-point lead with 3:55 remaining, and Washington Jr. got in on the fun on the next possession with a long ball of his own.
Ahrens added two more three-pointers on consecutive possessions following Washington’s make to increase Ohio State’s lead to 35 points at 77-42 as head coach Chris Holtmann and the Buckeyes salted away the final seconds of their third win on the season.
Following the game, Liddell said he and the Buckeyes were focused on coming out and competing against Morehead State, something he felt the team didn’t do in Sunday’s win.
“I just feel like we were more connected, (positions) one through five. The bench was connected,” Liddell said of his team’s effort, which his head coach later echoed.
“I thought this was a definite improvement from the other night and it was good to see,” Holtmann said after the game. “I thought we just played more connected on both ends … we knew (Morehead State) was used to playing good competition and they would bring a lot of fight. I thought they really did … It was a good win. Most importantly, there was some improvement in some areas we worked on over these last couple of days.”
Holtmann said he thought his team also shared and moved the ball better than it did in Sunday’s lackluster performance, which was critical against the zone defense.
Ohio State returns to action next Tuesday when it travels to Notre Dame to take on the Irish in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Tip-off for the game is set for 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted on ESPN 2.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.