5 takeaways from Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament win over Loyola-Chicago

Ohio State put the clamps on Loyola-Chicago and earned two more days in Pittsburgh with a 54-41 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon.

The seventh-seeded Buckeyes trailed for less than three minutes and led by as many as 15 points, putting a late-season swoon in the rearview mirror and moving on to face No. 2 Villanova or No. 15 Delaware in the second round on Sunday.

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“We knew we were in for a rock fight, and that’s very much what it was,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “So our guys deserve great credit. They really competed on both ends and were able to break away just when we needed to. Players win games, and those guys did a great job with that.”

Here are five things to know about the game:

1. E.J. Liddell and Malaki Branham combined for 30 points for the Buckeyes.

Liddell had 16 points and 10 rebounds while Branham had 14 points and five boards.

Branham, a freshman guard from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, had six points in an 8-0 run that gave Ohio State the lead for good late in the first half.

Liddell hit a pair of free throws to complete the spurt, and the two were often able to get buckets when the team needed them as they held Loyola at bay in the second half.

2. Ohio State held the Ramblers to 27 percent shooting.

Loyola, a 10 seed, never got into a rhythm on offense, missing some open shots but more finding them hard to get against a Buckeye team that has not always excelled on that end of the court this season.

The Ramblers made 8 of 28 from 3-point range to avoid getting totally blown out.

“Obviously as coaches we’re constantly seeking ways we can do a better job at putting our guys in position defensively,” Holtmann said. “But I think ultimately the effort piece comes down to ownership on their part. And they were as bought in and as owned as they’ve been all year for sure on that end. It was the best defensive performance we’ve really had in a couple years.”

Braden Norris, the older brother of Wright State guard Keaton Norris, led Loyola with 14 points while making 5 of his 13 shots, including 4 of 11 from 3-point range.

3. This was more the expected formula for success for the Buckeyes.

Holtmann said earlier in the week he didn’t want his team to have to rely too heavily on Liddell and Branham, as it had late in the season.

The duo had the majority of points, but they got plenty of help in other areas.

Kyle Young returned from a concussion to score nine points and grab seven rebounds in in 35 minutes. Fellow big man Zed Key, who had been out with an ankle injury, scored only two points in 12 minutes but had seven rebounds.

“Having Kyle back is great,” Liddell said. “I felt like everybody who stepped foot on floor was determined (and) ready, had a mentality that we can’t be beat and won’t be beat.

“So I feel like we keep that same mindset, we’ll be good to go.”

Point guard Jamari Wheeler scored four points, had four rebounds, an assist and a steal.

4. The teams slogged through the first 12 minutes before things opened up.

Loyola-Chicago’s Ryan Schwieger broke a 9-9 tie with a layup, but Ohio State responded with an 8-0 run.

Branham started it with a pull-up jumper then hit another midrange shot and scored on a breakaway dunk in the span of 70 seconds.

Liddell made a pair of free throws to cap the run, which ended on Norris’ 3-pointer for the Ramblers.

Then Branham got loose for another breakaway dunk to start a 6-0 run that put Ohio State up nine, but Norris hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to six before the half.

“They’re a physical team, so they was blitzing the ball screen so I had to get used to that,” Branham said. “So after I got adjusted, it was cool.”

The Ramblers made only 7 of their 30 shots from the field (23 percent) while Ohio State was 8-for-20 (40 percent) in the first half.

“I feel like when we start out, the first four minutes determines the game,” Liddell said. “We set the rules, and I felt like we came out here and did a great job on defensive end, great communication.

“And we played with an edge tonight. Played like the underdogs. We gotta keep playing like that because people have been counting us out big time. We’ve got to have that same mindset next game.”

5. Ohio State tightened its grip on the game with a fast start to the second half.

The Buckeyes scored the first six points after halftime to extend their lead to double digits for the first time at 29-18.

The Buckeyes pushed it to 13 points a few minutes later on Meechie Johnson Jr.’s 3-pointer, and Liddell made it 14 for the first time with a free throw with 13:03 to go.

The Ramblers cut the deficit to single-digits three times after that, but their scoring struggles (and the Ohio State defense) kept them from getting closer than eight.

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