COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)E.J. Liddell scored a career-high 29 points as No. 17 Ohio State pulled away from Niagara in the second half for an 84-74 win on Friday night.
Liddell has carried the load in each of the first two games, both of them closer-than-expected wins for the Buckeyes (2-0).
Ohio State needed a last-second layup by Zed Key to beat Akron on Tuesday night.
Marcus Hammond scored 22 points for Niagara (0-2), which stayed in the game until the final minute. Sam Iorio had 18 points and Jordan Cintron scored 17.
The Buckeyes led 42-41 at halftime after the Purple Eagles’ Noah Thomasson beat the buzzer with a layup. Liddell had 18 first-half points for the Buckeyes but sat for the last 5 1/2 minutes after picking up his second foul.
The Buckeyes opened up a 12-point lead on a dunk by Malaki Branham with 4:38 left, but Niagara wouldn’t go away.
Cintron hit a 3-pointer to cut the Ohio State lead to seven points with 27 seconds left, but Niagara had to start fouling and the Buckeyes kept them at bay with free throws.
Key had 11 points for Ohio State and Justice Sueing added 10.
”I thought our guys had some really good responses and some really good moments,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. ”This was a hard-fought win.”
Niagara: The Purple Eagles hit 60% of their 3-pointers in the first half and finished 11 for 21 from beyond the arc. A solid performance against Ohio State followed a 3-point loss to Big East squad Xavier on Tuesday night.
”I was really proud of the fight and resiliency that we showed throughout the entire game,” Niagara coach Greg Paulus said. ”They have so many great players over there that we tried to make it as difficult as we could. I was really proud of how our guys responded.”
Ohio State: Except for Liddell, the Buckeyes’ first two efforts haven’t been impressive. They were nearly upset by Akron and then went to mat with a scrappy Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference foe. The Buckeyes made one field goal in the final four minutes.
”We really need to play games,” Holtmann said. ”These first two have been challenging. Bottom line is we need to play games. We need to have experiences like this. We’re a work in progress.”
Kyle Young, who decided to return to Ohio State for a fifth season, made his season debut after being diagnosed with vestibular dysfunction diagnosis in the preseason. The condition disturbs the body’s sense of balance, with symptoms including dizziness and vertigo. Young missed the final three games last year after suffering his second concussion in the season’s final month. He entered Friday’s game early in the game and had a dunk in the first 10 seconds. He finished with seven rebounds and five points.
”It felt great being back out there with the guys, hearing the fans cheer when I came back out was something special,” Young said.
Paulus returned to Value City Arena for the first time since his stint as an Ohio State assistant. Paulus was at Ohio State from 2011-17, first as the video coordinator and then an assistant under former coach Thad Matta. He was an assistant at Louisville and George Washington before Niagara, where he is 21-33.
”I love Ohio State. This is a special place,” Paulus said. ”They’re supporting us at Niagara, so it was fun to come back.”
Niagara: Plays SIU Edwardsville in Youngstown, Ohio, on Nov. 19.
Ohio State: Hosts Bowling Green on Monday night.
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