COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — E.J. Liddell scored a career-high 34 points and No. 13 Ohio State beat Northwestern 95-87 Sunday.
Liddell scored 17 points in the first five minutes, including a career-high five 3-pointers in that span. He set a personal best in field goals made, finishing 12 of 20 from the field.
His production helped Ohio State (10-3, 4-1 Big Ten Conference) shoot 67% in the first half. The Buckeyes led 51-39 at halftime, which matched their scoring output from a 67-51 loss at Indiana on Thursday.
The Wildcats (8-5, 1-3) trimmed the 12-point halftime deficit to six with 37 seconds left.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge on the defensive side of the ball,” Ohio State coach Jake Diebler said. “We needed all of it tonight.”
The Buckeyes made just one field goal in the final 6:13 but held off Northwestern’s comeback bid at the free-throw line.
Ohio State knocked down 11 foul shots in the final three minutes and finished 26 of 27 from the line.
Malaki Branham added 24 points and shot 13 of 14 on free throws.
Three Wildcats scored at least 20 points as their losing streak extended to three. Ty Berry led Northwestern with 23 points while Chase Audige and Pete Nance each had 20.
“The first five minutes of the game really told a story,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “I was very displeased with our defense early in the game.”
BRANHAM CONTINUES HOT STREAK
Just seven days earlier, Branham scored 35 points to break the Ohio State freshman record for points in a conference game.
He then led the team in scoring during the last two games, and scored in double figures for the third consecutive outing while shooting 62.5% Sunday.
“I feel good,” Branham said. “I just really got to keep being consistent.”
LIDDELL RETURNS TO FORM
Liddell broke out of a slump early, nailing his first six shots, five from deep. He had shot 19.2% over his last two games before posting a 60% clip Sunday.
He also secured the 400th rebound and 100th block of his career.
“A lot of people was downing me after two bad games,” Liddell said. “But truthfully, I just kept my head up and just kept playing with confidence and doing what I know how to do.”
OHIO STATE COACHES UNAVAILABLE
Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann and assistant Ryan Pedon were unavailable due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, according to Ohio State.
Jake Diebler served as the Buckeyes’ acting coach. Diebler became an assistant in 2019 and also spent 2014-16 as the team’s video coordinator. He’s the brother of Jon Diebler, the Buckeyes’ all-time 3-point record holder.
“This game has been so good to me,” Jake Diebler said. “There’s a deep-rooted passion and love for this game.”
Northwestern: For the second consecutive game, the Wildcats shot over 41.7% from both the field and 3-point range. They just couldn’t keep up with Ohio State, allowing season highs in scoring and field goal percentage.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes shot 56.9% after posting a season-worst 30.8% at Indiana on Thursday.
“It was just a matter of time before we were going to play better offensively,” Jake Diebler said. “Our guys didn’t lose confidence. We stayed with what we know.”
Northwestern: Hosts Maryland on Wednesday.
Ohio State: Travels to Wisconsin on Thursday.