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NBA Prospect Watch: Buckeyes’ Liddell makes steady progress

February 2, 2022 GMT
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell, left, fights for a rebound with Purdue guard Ethan Morton (25) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell, left, fights for a rebound with Purdue guard Ethan Morton (25) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell, left, fights for a rebound with Purdue guard Ethan Morton (25) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell, left, fights for a rebound with Purdue guard Ethan Morton (25) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell, left, fights for a rebound with Purdue guard Ethan Morton (25) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell tested the draft waters last year and then returned to school knowing what he wanted to accomplish.

“I was expecting to be able to play in the NBA and stay in there for a long time,” the junior forward said before the season. “That’s what I’m looking forward to. I felt like it wasn’t the time. I felt like I could come back and win some more basketball games here. There’s no rush.”

That’s exactly what Liddell has been doing. And he’s made himself a better player in the process.

Liddell said he wanted to upgrade his all-around game and improve his 3-point shooting and rebounding. Sure enough, Liddell is shooting 39.7% from beyond the arc and collecting 7.5 rebounds per game, up from 33.8% and 6.7 last season.

Those aren’t the only areas in which he’s improved. The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging 19.7 points, 2.8 assists and 2.7 blocks while shooting 51.5%. Last season, he averaged 16.2 points, 1.8 assists and 1.1 blocks while shooting 47.4%.

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“He’s a phenomenal kid from a phenomenal family,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. “He’s made an incredible mark. His legacy’s going to be one that’s significant because of who he is as a player and who he is as a kid.”

Liddell also has shown plenty of consistency and has delivered against top opponents. He has scored at least 18 points in five of his last six games, the lone exception being a 13-point performance in an 83-37 blowout of IUPUI.

He made consecutive 3-pointers in the final 34 seconds Sunday to help the 16th-ranked Buckeyes rally from a 20-point deficit to tie No. 4 Purdue, though Jaden Ivey’s 3 with 0.6 seconds left gave the Boilermakers an 81-78 victory.

“He’s continuing to evolve and add pieces to his game,” said Wisconsin coach Greg Gard, whose team has split two meetings with Ohio State this season. “We recruited him some, too, and he didn’t have the perimeter ability that he has now and obviously his ability to draw fouls and those types of things. The versatility and diversity that he’s added to his offensive game, I think, is one of the things that stands out.”

SIZE: 6-foot-7, 240 pounds

STATS: 19.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.7 blocks

STRENGTHS: His stat-stuffing ability at Ohio State reflects his versatility and the strength of his overall game.

WEAKNESSES: His 3-point shooting has come a long way since the start of his college career, but he must show that can translate to the pro ranks.

DRAFT PROJECTION: Late in the first round or early in the second.

Other prospects around the Big Ten:

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G JOHNNY DAVIS, Wisconsin: This likely lottery pick had been held below 20 points in each of his last two games heading into Wednesday’s showdown at No. 18 Illinois, but he showed his ability to deliver in crunch time by scoring the final six points in a 66-60 victory over Minnesota Sunday.

G JADEN IVEY, Purdue: Ivey, a potential top-five overall pick, delivered one of the biggest shots of the college basketball season thus far by sinking a tiebreaking 3-pointer in the final second of a victory over Ohio State.

G MAX CHRISTIE, Michigan State: He’s considered an intriguing prospect, though his production has been inconsistent in his freshman season. He scored 16 points in a victory over Michigan, but that was sandwiched between a two-point game in a loss at Illinois and a seven-point effort in a victory at Maryland.

F KOFI COCKBURN, Illinois: Another player who tested the draft waters before returning to school, Cockburn entered Wednesday’s game with Wisconsin averaging 21.1 points and 11.6 rebounds. Oakland’s Jamal Cain is the only other Division I player averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.

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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25