COLUMBUS — E.J. Liddell’s monster afternoon was simply too much for No. 22 Wisconsin to handle as No. 21 Ohio State cruised to a dominant 73-55 win over the Badgers on Saturday in the Schottenstein Center.
With the win, Ohio State improves to 2-0 in conference play and 8-2 overall. The victory is their third against ranked teams this season.
Liddell finished with 28 points, nine rebounds, and four assists in 31 minutes of action, and Zed Key came within one rebound of a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.
While Liddell was the best player on the floor, Ohio State received important contributions from up and down the roster, including a combined 15 bench points from guards Meechie Johnson and Cedric Russell. As a team, Ohio State shot 50% from the field and finished with a 21-rebound advantage over Wisconsin.
Although the end result was there, things didn’t start so well for the home team. Ohio State had to overcome 10 first-half turnovers to take a five-point lead into halftime, but a woeful shooting performance by Wisconsin in the second half gave way to an emphatic closing stretch for the Buckeyes.
“That’s a quality win over a quality team and program,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said following the game. “We know how good Wisconsin is, how consistent they’ve been, and how well-coached they are … Outside of the turnovers there early and some of the sloppy plays in that particular area, I was really pleased with our effort.”
Despite the loss, Wisconsin star and likely NBA lottery pick Johnny Davis continued his impressive season, scoring 24 points and grabbing seven rebounds. However, the performance was not enough to overcome a 34% shooting day for the Badgers as a team, their worst mark of the season.
Liddell’s three-pointer on Ohio State’s first possession had them out and running, and a 7-2 run in the early stages had the Buckeyes up by five points.
Wisconsin quickly answered the Ohio State run with one of their own. Two three-pointers by Brad Davison sparked an 8-0 run and had the Badgers in front, 10-7, heading into the first media timeout.
Turnover issues, which have plagued Ohio State at times this season, began to again haunt them throughout the first half. Through just eight minutes of action, Ohio State had already committed six turnovers. The sixth giveaway led to a fastbreak dunk and a three-point play by Tyler Wahl, part of a 15-2 Badger run that had them up 17-9 with 11 minutes remaining in the half.
Badly in need of a response, Ohio State appropriately turned to Liddell, and his five-point spurt had the Buckeyes quickly back within three points. Jamari Wheeler’s three-pointer increased the Ohio State run to 8-0 and tied the game at 19-19 with 8:26 remaining in the half.
The Buckeye run bloated to 12-0 on a pair of buckets from Wheeler and Zed Key as Ohio State claimed a 23-19 advantage before Davison’s third three-pointer of the half ended the run.
Ohio State’s lead stayed within one possession for the remaining five minutes of the half before Russell’s three-pointer gave the Buckeyes a 34-29 lead heading into the break.
Both teams started ice cold to begin the second half, combining to go just 3-19 as Ohio State managed to take a 39-31 lead into the under-16 media timeout.
With the game still very much up for grabs, Ohio State finally began to take advantage of the poor Wisconsin shooting. Johnson’s three-pointer gave Ohio State their first double-digit lead of the game at 42-31 as the clock ticked under 15 minutes to play in the game.
Johnson was just getting started for Ohio State as he momentarily took over the game. A few possessions later, he drilled his second three of the game and came up with a steal on the other end to begin a Buckeye fast break. Liddell found Key for a thunderous transition dunk on the break, increasing the Ohio State to 49-36 and forcing Wisconsin to call a timeout as the Schottenstein Center crowd erupted.
Things would continue to spiral out of control for Wisconsin as the missed shots piled up with every possession. Ohio State’s lead ballooned to 20 points at 56-36 following a three-point play by Liddell as the Buckeyes began to put the game away.
A 6-0 Wisconsin run temporarily tightened things up as Ohio State went cold on the offensive end, missing five of six attempts. In need of a basket to stem the tide, Liddell once again delivered for the Buckeyes, drilling a jumper and effectively ending any threat of a comeback.
Holtmann said of Liddell’s performance, “He’s such a weapon. The kid can roll out of bed and get you 15 or 20 points. That’s just how he’s wired, and he’s always been that way. We’ve been able to move him around and play him in a lot of different positions schematically with his increased versatility, and I think that’s what helps.”
Ohio State will have a week off before returning to action next Saturday when they travel to Las Vegas to take on No. 10 Kentucky (7-1) in the CBS Sports Classic. Tip-off is set for 5:15 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.