Ohio State will hit the road in Big Ten play for the first time this season when they take on Northwestern tonight in Evanston. This begins a stretch in which the Buckeyes will play four of their next five games on the road. Tonight's game marks only the second true road game for Ohio State this season, as contests against Memphis and Kentucky were held at neutral sites.
The Buckeyes are fresh off a 75-73 win on Sunday at Value City Arena, where a career-high 27 points from Marc Loving helped Ohio State fend off a three-point barrage from Illinois, which saw the Fighting Illini hit 12 of their 32 shots from behind the arc. Not only was Loving a key for Ohio State in the victory, but the Buckeyes were not able to get to the free throw line, but they were able to make most of their free throws, hitting 28 of their 39 attempts for the charity stripe.
After a rough start to the season, Ohio State has started to come together as a team, which is evidenced by their current six-game winning streak. A lot of Ohio State's success during their winning streak can be attributed to their work on the defensive end. The 73 points Illinois scored on Sunday was the first time an Ohio State opponent has topped 70 points since the Buckeyes lost to UConn 75-55 on December 12th.
What might be most surprising about this year's Ohio State team has been their ability to block shots, with the nine blocks the Buckeyes recorded against Illinois tying the season-high they set against South Carolina State. The Buckeyes have now blocked at least five shots in 12 of their 15 games, and blocked at least seven shots in nine of their 15 games so far this year. Five of the nine blocks recorded on Sunday against Illinois were credited to freshman Daniel Giddens, who now has 30 blocks this season in 13 games.
Now the Buckeyes will take on a Northwestern team that is 13-2 so far this season, with their only losses coming to North Carolina and Maryland. The Wildcats are hoping that a hot start to the season will carry continue into conference play as they look to secure their first NCAA Tournament bid in school history. After taking down Nebraska in their Big Ten opener, Northwestern struggled on Saturday against Maryland. The Wildcats weren't able to make up any ground in the second half after falling behind 40-20 at halftime, losing to the Terrapins 72-59 in Evanston.
Northwestern can't have many good thoughts when they see they are playing Ohio State, as the Buckeyes have won the last 10 games against the Wildcats, and 21 of the last 22 meetings. Ohio State has posted a 115-45 record against Northwestern all-time, while Thad Matta is 17-1 as head coach at Ohio State against Northwestern, with the only loss coming in February 2009 in Evanston. In their last meeting, D'Angelo Russell poured in 33 points for the Buckeyes in the 69-67 win by Ohio State.
The Wildcats took a hit recently when it was announced in late December that center Alex Olah would be out indefinitely with a foot injury. Before suffering the injury, the senior was averaging 12.8 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, and two blocks per game for Northwestern during their torrid start to the season. The injury forced head coach Chris Collins to scrap his plans of redshirting freshman Derek Pardon, and the move paid quick dividends, with the Cleveland native scoring 28 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in the win over Nebraska.
Numbers to know
Ohio State has played 167 minutes and 31 seconds of game time since last having one of their shot attempts blocked. The last time a Buckeye had their shot rejected was in the second half of the win over Kentucky when Skal Labissiere was credited with a block with 12:29 left in the game. The Buckeyes have won their last 10 games when they haven't had one of their field goal attempts blocked.
30 free throw attempts is a magic number for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes are 37-0 when attempting 30 free throws or more under Thad Matta. The 39 free throws Ohio State attempted in Sunday's win over Illinois was a season-high. The only other time the Buckeyes attempted at least 30 free throws this season was in the win over Northern Illinois, when Ohio State attempted exactly 30 free throws.
Northwestern currently is third in the nation with a 1.80 assist-to-turnover ratio. So far this year the Wildcats have accounted for 277 assists while committing just 154 turnovers. By comparison, Ohio State has just a 0.90 assist-to-turnover ration, with the Buckeyes dishing out just 189 assists while committing 209 turnovers. Ohio State has just three games this year in which they have more assists than turnovers, while Saturday's loss to Maryland was the first time this year Northwestern had more turnovers than assists in a game.
Cast of characters
Right now the junior is one of the hottest players in the Big Ten, as he put in 20 points in the win over Minnesota last Wednesday, followed by a career-high 27 points on Sunday against Illinois. After struggling for a combined 10 points against Mercer and South Carolina State, Loving has found his shot from the outside, hitting three triples in both of Ohio State's Big Ten victories. The 14 free throws by Loving against Illinois was the first time a Buckeye hit 10 or more free throws in a game since LaQuinton Ross did so in 2014 against Penn State.
Following up his 13 assist performance against Minnesota, Lyle struggled out of the gates against Illinois. All of Lyle's 14 points, five assists, and four rebounds were earned after halftime in Sunday's win. Currently Lyle sits second in the country among freshmen with 74 assists. Ohio State needs Lyle to find his shot from the outside though, as Lyle hasn't hit a three-pointer in his last four games, missing his last 13 shots from behind the arc during that span.
After a strong freshman season last year for Northwestern, McIntosh has been even better so far this year. The sophomore guard is ninth in the country, averaging 7.1 assists per game. Not only is McIntosh distributing the basketball, but he is also putting up strong scoring numbers, as he is the only Big Ten player to have multiple games of 30 points or more so far this season. McIntosh scored 32 points in the overtime win against Columbia, and bettered that with a 33-point performance against Loyola (MD).
While McIntosh gives Northwestern a lot of youthful energy, Tre Demps gives the Wildcats veteran leadership. The senior is second on the team with 14.9 points per game this year. It's not often you find Northwestern playing without Demps on the floor, as so far this year Demps is averaging over 36 minutes per game. In 548 minutes so far this season, Demps has only been called for 11 fouls, so it's hard to get him to make mistakes on defense.
How to watch
Game time: 9:00 p.m. ET
Radio: WBNS-FM 97.1
TV: Big Ten Network