COLUMBUS — No late-game heroics were required this time, but No. 17 Ohio State once again got all it could handle from an opponent as the Buckeyes held off Niagara, 84-74, in Value City Arena on Friday evening.
E.J. Liddell was 3-5 from three and led all scorers with 29 points, and Zed Key and Justice Sueing combined for 21 points in to lead Ohio State.
Playing in his first game of the season after being unavailable against Akron on Tuesday, Kyle Young came off the bench to score five points and grab six rebounds.
Niagara’s Marcus Hammond score 16 of his 22 points in the first half, while Sam Iorio chipped in 18 points. The two combined to go 7-13 from three on the evening.
It was the Hammond and Liddell show early on as each player single-handedly kept their respective teams afloat. Hammond scored 12 of Niagara’s first 14 points, and Liddell had eight of the first 10 points Ohio State scored as Niagara jumped out to an early 14-10 lead.
Both teams came out firing, particularly from the three-point line as they combined to make 12 three-pointers in the opening 20 minutes.
A three-pointer from Ohio State’s Justin Ahrens capped off a 13-3 run by the Buckeyes and gave them a 21-17 lead as the first half neared the 10-minute mark.
Niagara continued to battle back, however, and Hammond’s jumper with 6:11 remaining in the first half had them back out in front of Ohio State by two.
Justice Sueing’s two free throws with just eight seconds remaining in the half gave Ohio State a 42-39 lead, but a quick layup by Niagara’s Noah Thomasson at the buzzer sent the Purple Eagles into the locker room with considerable momentum down just a point to the Buckeyes.
Niagara finished the first half shooting 60% from three and 49% from the field, while Ohio State shot 50% overall and 46% from three in a back and forth opening period.
Ohio State opened the second half of a 14-5 run, including back-to-back threes from Branham and Ahrens, to take a 56-46 lead a little more than five minutes into the second half. But Niagara’s hot shooting from three continued well into the second half, and the Purple Eagles never seemed to run out of answers.
Refusing to go away quietly, Niagara fought back to within seven points of Ohio State on multiple occasions down the stretch, but timely baskets from the Buckeyes kept the Purple Eagles at an arm’s length.
Jordan Cintron’s three-pointer with 27 seconds remaining got Niagara back to within seven points at 81-74, but free throws from Liddell and Jamari Wheeler put the game away for good as the Buckeyes moved to 2-0 on the season.
“Give Niagara a lot of credit,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said following the game. “I thought (head coach) Greg (Paulus)’s team really played well against Xavier the other night, and I thought they played really well here. I think they’ve got some guards who are a handful and we struggled to contain them, particularly early, as they got going.
“But I thought our guys had some really good responses and some really good moments. I was proud of some of the growth with some of those guys. I thought our backcourt with Jamari (Wheeler) and Meechie (Johnson) and Malaki had some really good moments as well.”
Ohio State returns to action on Monday when they host Bowling Green. Tip off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.