The sophomore from Illinois area makes to look a larger impact in his second year with the Ohio State basketball team.
“I’m really pleased with E.J.’s progression. He’s just got to continue to keep growing. ” – Chris Holtmann
Looking at E.J. Liddell, he reminds you a bit of a typical bruising power forward. Built like a tree at 6’7 and 240 pounds, he is a tad undersized for the power forward position but makes up with grit and a rugged style of play.
The Belleville, Illinois native averaged 6.7 points a night for Ohio State basketball to go along with 3.8 rebounds per contest last year while shooting a little better from 46% from the field. A solid start to a college career, but those numbers do not scream “star” to anyone. I’ll show you why you need to dive into the numbers a bit deeper.
E.J. got off to a decent start scoring-wise to open his freshman campaign, despite never cracking 20 minutes in a game until game six against Kent State. In his first 10 games, he averaged 7.9 points per game, which was higher than his season average.
Granted, it was mostly against subpar opponents but it was good to see nonetheless. In those games he was also very efficient from the field, shooting 27-53 which is a near 51% clip. However, shooting 3-point shots was not a good spot for him, hitting just 2-13 shots from behind the ark. I’ll get into it more later but going forward, even in the age where almost every big man stretches the floor from beyond the ark, Liddell should almost never shoot from back there.
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Moving forward with Liddell’s next ten-game stretch, a stretch in which the buckeyes really struggled and only won four out of their ten games, E.J struggled as well as the team. E.J averaged just 4.9 points per game. He was not necessarily bad shooting the ball, as he made 15/32 shots from the field, shooting at around 47%, and shot much fewer three-pointers, although he was just 1/4.
The main issue in his drop off offensively was taking fewer shots (2 FG attempts or less in 4 of those games, 3 of which losses), getting into foul trouble (3 or more fouls in four of those games, in which the Buckeyes lost all four), and a tough time at the free-throw line (14/28).
Obviously, in a player’s first stretch of games in the always deep, always loaded, always tough Big Ten are going to be tougher, and I think it affected him to an extent. His rebound numbers on the offensive glass also tapered off.
In games 1-10 he recorded 10 offensive rebounds, while in games 11-20 he recorded just six. Defensively is where he took the biggest step back, where he dropped from 13 blocks in games 1-10 (1.3 a night) to 5 in games 11-20 (0.5 per night).
In steals, after recording seven in the first ten games, the next ten-game stretch he recorded just one steal. Obviously on defense numbers aren’t everything, but his basic surface numbers gave you an indication to be somewhat worrisome after a below-average defensive stretch.
In the last 11-game stretch to end the season, Liddell was very up and down. In games 21-25 he only averaged four points a night on inefficient shooting, going just 6-17 from the field and 5-8 from the charity stripe.
It was also tough for him to put up bigger counting stats as he topped 15 minutes of playing time just once. In game 26 against a tough Iowa team, he put up a then career-high 17 points and 8 rebounds. He was big on the offensive glass as well, collecting three second-chance opportunities. His last five-game stretch had its highs and its lows.
He recorded just two points in the game after the Iowa loss against Maryland, but then exploded his last two games in a home win over a good Illinois team (17 pts, 11 rebounds in 27 minutes), and a road loss against Michigan State where he recorded a career-high 29 minutes (scoring 12 points and notching four rebounds.
E.J finished the season averaging 6.7/3.8 in points and rebounds while shooting 46.4% from the field and 19.2% from three. He also shot just under 72% from the line, not bad for a big man. He finished second on the Buckeyes in blocks with 0.9 and sixth in steals with 0.4.
He didn’t receive a single start despite his play near the end of the year, which only magnifies his stats per 100 offensive possessions. Per 100 possessions, he averaged 24.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, almost 3.5 blocks, and 1.5 steals. Now, he will not be out there running on the floor for 100 straight offensive possessions, but it does give a good indication of what Liddell can do with regular playing time.
Overall he needs to drastically cut down on shooting three-point shots. He attempted 26 and made just 5 on the season. His style of play is more geared for the inside anyway, and I would look to Chris Holtmann to try to get him more opportunities in the low-post this upcoming year.
He can finish at the rim decently and shoots at over a 71% clip from the line, so he can convert his foul shots when fouled. Liddell, with extended usage, could potentially become a dominant force on offense on the inside for the Buckeyes.