Meechie Johnson, E.J. Liddell push Ohio State past Wisconsin in second-half flurry

For an eighth straight game, Justice Sueing could only watch his Ohio State teammates suit up.

The longing to be back on the court might have hit an all-time high Saturday morning inside Value City Arena. As the No. 21 Buckeyes donned their alternate, anthracite jerseys for a Big Ten home opener against No. 22 Wisconsin, the talk flashed back to the lone meeting between the two teams a season ago. In an empty Kohl Center amid a pandemic, the No. 15 Buckeyes controlled the No. 10 Badgers in a 74-62 win that also served as the official unveiling of the new jerseys.

Afterward, Seth Towns said they were so cool, they gave the Buckeyes superpowers. This year, Sueing could only watch as he continues to work back from an abdominal injury that will keep him sidelined for at least a few more weeks.

“Justice Sueing was in the locker room upset because he was like, ‘Man, y’all look good right now,’ ” E.J. Liddell said. “I love these jerseys. They’re really dope.”

In front of 13,856 fans, Liddell and the Buckeyes showed why they feel that way. After shaking off a sloppy first half, Ohio State (8-2, 2-0 Big Ten) built a lead as high as 23 points during the second half and cruised to a 73-55 win against the Badgers (8-2, 1-1).

What had been a 34-31 Ohio State lead a moment into the second half ballooned as the Buckeyes exerted their will on the Badgers, and Meechie Johnson Jr. helped the home team pull away. Ahead 44-36, Johnson buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to push it to a double-digit lead. At the other end, he ripped the ball out of Tyler Wahl’s hands and pushed the ball in transition.

Ohio State's E.J. Liddell led the Buckeyes with 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting and had seven rebounds on Saturday.
Ohio State's E.J. Liddell led the Buckeyes with 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting and had seven rebounds on Saturday.

From in front of the Ohio State bench, Johnson whipped a no-look pass to Liddell, who quickly gave it up to Zed Key for a dunk to make it 53-36. Wisconsin missed two shots on its next possession, Liddell answered with a three-point play and the lead was 20.

Wisconsin had just come from 22 down to beat Indiana on Wednesday night, tying its biggest-ever comeback, but Ohio State wasn’t giving up this lead in earning a third win in seven days.

“Outside of a couple turnovers early and some of the sloppy plays in that particular area I was really pleased with our effort,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “Most importantly, we had a good week.”

Ohio State forward Zed Key dunks over Wisconsin guard Chucky Hepburn on Saturday.
Ohio State forward Zed Key dunks over Wisconsin guard Chucky Hepburn on Saturday.

Ahead 7-2 after five quick points from Liddell, Ohio State’s inability to take care of the ball and some hot shooting from Johnny Davis and Brad Davison furled a Wisconsin run. When Malaki Branham turned the ball over and Tyler Wahl converted a three-point play with 11:47 to play, Wisconsin held a 17-9 lead and Ohio State had already committed six turnovers. Davis had 8 of those points and Davison had 6 on a pair of 3-pointers, and he would hit a jumper to keep the lead at eight points before a Liddell layup pulled the Buckeyes within 19-13 with 10:40 left.

It was the start of a 12-0 run that saw the Buckeyes hold Wisconsin scoreless on eight straight possessions while forcing three turnovers. Zed Key punctuated the run with an alley-oop dunk from Jamari Wheeler that gave Ohio State a 23-19 lead. The Buckeyes wouldn’t trail again as Davis finished with 24 points on 11-for-22 shooting and Davison, after hitting four of his first six shots for 11 points in the first 14 minutes, missed his final six shots and scored only two more points with Justin Ahrens frequently guarding him.

Ohio State forward Zed Key dunks over Wisconsin guard Jordan Davis on Saturday.
Ohio State forward Zed Key dunks over Wisconsin guard Jordan Davis on Saturday.

Ohio State collectively held Wisconsin to 38.7% shooting (22 for 65) and 29.4% (10 for 34) in the second half. After turning it over 10 times before halftime, the Buckeyes had only four during the second half.

“They made some tough ones early,” Holtmann said. “Davison, he’s a really good player. We’re going to go back there and it’s going to be a completely different game with how they shoot the ball. They missed some, but we forced some tough ones too. Our zone helped.”

So did Liddell, who had 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting and added seven rebounds. Same for Key, who just missed a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds while frequently raising the roof after throwing down dunks, and Kyle Young’s career-high 14 rebounds.

The jerseys didn’t hurt, either.


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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Meechie Johnson, E.J. Liddell lead Ohio State past Wisconsin