COLUMBUS — In need of a bounce back performance, No. 22 Ohio State wouldn’t be denied on Monday evening. After scoring the final four points in regulation time, Ohio State outlasted Indiana in overtime to secure an 80-69 win.
Freshman Malaki Branham continued his ascension to becoming one of the league’s best young players, scoring a game-high 27 points to lead Ohio State to the victory on a night when others struggled to find their footing. Eugene Brown III, who was making his third consecutive start, added 10 points, six rebounds, and two blocks in his best all-around effort of the season.
After struggling mightily in last month’s loss at Indiana, All-American candidate E.J. Liddell again found himself in a grind against fellow NBA lottery prospect Trayce Jackson-Davis. Liddell shook off a 1-7 start in the first half to finish with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson each scored 13 points to lead Indiana, which was shorthanded on the night with the absences of three guards in Trey Galloway, Khristian Lander, and Rob Phinisee.
The opening 20 minutes were evenly contested as the two teams traded baskets throughout the first four minutes of the game. A layup by Jackson-Davis gave Indiana an early 8-7 lead before Ohio State began to heat up offensively.
A three-pointer from Brown and a jumper from Liddell put Ohio State ahead 13-10 with 12:46 remaining in the first half, and Wheeler’s layup at the 11:14 increased the lead to five points as the game hit the midway point of the half. Wheeler’s layup capped off a string of six consecutive possessions that ended in points for Ohio State.
Indiana battled back to take the lead on Parker Stewart’s three-pointer with 7:42 remaining in the half, but Ohio State countered with a 16-8 scoring advantage over the next five minutes to build a 33-26 lead just before halftime.
Ever prone to prolonged scoreless streaks, however, Ohio State was not able to maintain their offensive momentum. A scoring drought of more than two minutes rendered Ohio State unable to build on the lead over the final two minutes, allowing Indiana to remain close heading into the halftime break.
Ohio State came out firing to begin the second half, connecting on its first five shots of the final period to build on its lead. Branham’s layup put Ohio State ahead 44-36 with 16:10 remaining, and he followed it up with an uncontested dunk on the ensuing possession for the first double-digit margin of the evening by either team.
Indiana’s Parker Stewart immediately cut the lead back to seven points with his third three-pointer of the evening, but Branham answered right back with a three of his own to push the lead back to 10 points.
A free throw from Kyle Young had Ohio State out in front by 11 points a minute later as the Buckeyes appeared to be seizing all control of the game, but a crucial four-point spurt by Indiana’s Miller Kopp cut the Hoosiers’ deficit to six points as the clock ticked below 11 minutes.
Two more free throws from Young ended Indiana’s mini scoring run, but Kopp responsed with a three-pointer that brought the Hoosiers to within five points midway through the final period as the tension began to grow.
Indiana continued to chip away at the lead as the Ohio State offensive once again struggled to find points on the other end. Tamar Bates’ layup had Indiana within a point a few possessions later, and the Hooisers took their first lead of the second half on a pair of free throws from Jackson-Davis with 6:35 to play.
The scoring drought continued for Ohio State, reaching more than four minutes of scoreless action as Indiana took a 59-55 lead with under five minutes remaining. Two free throws from Branham finally ended the scoreless run for Ohio State, bringing them back to within a posession, but Indiana continued to come up with timely baskets to stretch the lead.
Bates’ jumper with 2:47 remaining had Indiana in front 63-59, and consecutive misses by Ohio State on their next two offensive possessions had them under the gun as the game approaced the final minute.
Down four points and in desperate need of a stop, Liddell forced a steal out of an Indiana timeout, knocking the ball away from Thompson on what would become a game-defining play. Branham was fouled on the possession, sending him to the line where he knocked down a pair of free throws to bring Ohio State to within two points with 56 seconds to play.
Bates’ three-point attempt was off the mark on Indiana’s next possession, and Jamari Wheeler secured the rebound with 24 seconds remaining to set the stage for Ohio State to take the final shot.
Wheeler pushed the ball up the floor before passing to Branham, who initiated the offense. After driblling and probing the Indiana defense, Branham found a wide-open Liddell for a two-handed slam late in the shot clock that tied the game and set off a roar in Value City Arena.
Xavier Johnson’s heave at the buzzer was tipped by Wheeler, falling harlmlessly to the floor and sending the game to an extra period.
After fighting back late to force the overtime, Ohio State was able to sustain all of its momentum into the overtime period. Wheeler’s corner three edged Ohio State ahead 70-67 two minutes into the period, and the Buckeyes never relinquished the lead.
Johnson’s two free throws brought Indiana back to within a point on the next possession, but Liddell’s jumper pushed Ohio State’s lead right back to three as the game hit the two-minute mark.
Following an Indiana miss, it was Branham once again coming up big for his team, hitting a contested jumper in the lane that increased the Ohio State lead to 74-69 and effectively putting the game away.
Ohio State never looked back from there, salting away the game from the free throw line with six conseuctive makes down the stretch to finish off the win.
“It was an emotional win. I’m really proud of our guys,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said following the game. “I’ve got a lot of respect for this Indiana team. I think they’re a really talented, bonafide NCAA Tournament team … I just thought our guys were phenomenal in the closing two or three minutes.”
Holtmann said some his players were “struggling physically” throughout the game, an impact he credited to Indiana’s defense, but added that “(number) 22 wasn’t struggling.”
Holtmann said of Branham’s growing level of play, “His maturity level is elevated. I’ve said that all along. He’s one of the most mature freshmen I’ve ever coached, across the board.”
With the win, Ohio State improves to 17-7 overall and 10-5 in Big Ten play. They return to action on Thursday when they travel to Champaign to take on the 15th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini. Tip-off for the game is set for 9 p.m.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.