COLUMBUS, Ohio – In 1977, the Soviet Union existed, Kobe Bryant wasn’t born and Northwestern won a basketball game in Columbus. Thirty-seven years later, the Soviet Union has dissolved, Bryant is one of the greatest basketball players of all time and the Wildcats have yet to win in Columbus again.
|No. 24 Ohio State||37||39||76|
But on a night when the Big Ten foes appeared to be Cold War adversaries, Northwestern put a scare into No. 24 Ohio State. There was a glimmer of hope for the Wildcats during the first half. Then the Earth continued rotating on its axis.
A nine-point Northwestern advantage evaporated in mere minutes, as the Buckeyes rolled to a 76-60 victory and its 33rd consecutive home win over the Wildcats.
“I thought Ohio State earned this game,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said.
Four Buckeyes finished in double-figures scoring with LaQuinton Ross leading the way with 16 points and six rebounds. Aaron Craft (four steals) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (10 rebounds) scored 14 points apiece and Sam Thompson had 11, including three 3s.
All that went well for Ross was eventually marred, though, when he was ejected late in the second half, along with Northwestern’s Nikola Cerina, after the teams got into a scuffle. The back-and-forth shoving led to 10 free throws.
“They’re probably the most physical team we play all year. That’s just their style,” Thompson said. He added that Ross apologized to his teammates in the locker room after the game.
Cerina will be suspended for Northwestern’s game Saturday versus Indiana. Officials deemed he used a closed fist in an attempted punch of Amir Williams. Ross will not miss any games and was ejected for two deadball technical fouls.
“I trust what the referees said,” Collins said after the game. “They said they wanted to get it right, and you want them to get it right. Personally, I didn’t see any punches, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any thrown.”
The Wildcats (12-15, 5-9) were shooting 63 percent midway through the first half and had the home crowd worried. Northwestern used a 13-1 run to build a nine-point lead. But then came a 16-3 sequence and points on seven straight possessions for the Buckeyes – and eventually 20 of 22. It erased all positive feelings from a team that’s lost four consecutive games.
It looked like a repeat of most of the previous 26 games when Ohio State (21-6, 8-6) only converted on five of its first 16 field goals. However, as the snow thawed outside, the shots began falling inside Value City Arena. The Buckeyes made eight of their last nine shots in the first half, shooting 52 percent for the period and 46 percent for the game.
“For whatever reason, we woke up,” Thompson said. “We talk about needing that killer instinct and putting teams away. Tonight, I thought we did that on both ends of the floor.”
On Saturday night, it was freshman Marc Loving who scored a cluster of points. Wednesday, Ross was responsible for seven straight points.
Ohio State carried a 37-33 lead into halftime and came out in the second half scoring the first nine points. During the spurt, the Wildcats went scoreless for nearly five minutes. The Buckeyes outscored Northwestern 24-7 in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Ohio State drew five fouls in the opening two minutes of the half and spent the final 10:46 in the double bonus. Thad Matta said the goal entering the game was to shoot 25 free throws. The Buckeyes topped that by four, finishing 23 of 29 (79 percent), well above their season average. They led by double digits the final 19 minutes and by as many as 21 points.
“I like the direction we’re heading,” Matta said. “This is historically when we’ve tried to play our best basketball. Just with the landscape of college basketball, Syracuse loses at home tonight, who knows what’s going to happen when you take the floor.”
Northwestern’s Drew Crawford, who finished 1-of-15 shooting in his last outing, was the game’s leading scorer with 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The Wildcats shot 39 percent in the second half after topping the 50-percent mark in the first half.
“I thought [Ohio State] turned their defense up a notch,” Collins said.
The Buckeyes are a half game back of Wisconsin for fourth place in the conference, less than a month after losing five of six. The top four seeds receive first-round byes in the Big Ten Tournament.
“I never thought the sky was falling,” Smith said. “Our team has bounced back from that. We aren’t where we want to be. But we’ve battled back and picked ourselves up from that. We have a next game mentality.”
Ohio State, now winners of five of its past six, host Minnesota (17-9, 6-7) at 6 p.m. Saturday.