It was sloppy, choppy, and saturated with fouls, but ultimately, Ohio State found a way to win. The Buckeyes overcame poor shooting, foul trouble and more, thanks to huge nights from Trevor Thompson and Kam Williams, and grabbed a huge win on the road against Northwestern, their 11th in a row against the Wildcats.
The Buckeyes didn't get off to a great start, as Keita Bates-Diop picked up two fouls in the first three minutes and missed almost the entire first half. Thad Matta picked up a rare technical foul just a few minutes later after protesting a missed call, which did nothing to prevent heavily involved officiating throughout the game, on the ball and off. Neither team was able to get into much of an offensive rhythm, and it showed .
Northwestern missed their first 10 three pointers and finished 2-13 from downtown, and shot only 30% from the floor. The Buckeyes weren't much better, shooting 2-10 from three point land, and 41% from the floor. The Wildcats finished the half on a 10-0 run to grab a 27-26 halftime lead, despite their horrendous shooting. Eight Ohio State turnovers, including five from JaQuan Lyle, prevented the Buckeyes from taking advantage of Northwestern's offensive trouble.
Things didn't improve much in the second half, even as Northwestern found themselves on the other side of the officiating call, quickly picking up four team fouls in the first five minutes. Neither team was able to break away from the other, thanks to horrible free throw shooting and cold shooting from the floor that carried over from the first half. But finally, Kam Williams helped push Ohio State ahead thanks to his three point shooting, as Ohio State finally pulled away over the five minutes with a 14-6 run, to put the game out of reach.
Williams hit five three pointers and brought in a game high 21 points, attacking the Wildcats inside and out. Trevor Thompson was also huge, with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Buckeyes. Bryant Mcintonish added 15 for the Wildcats. Ohio-native Derek Pardon added 13 rebounds in place of the injured Alex Olah.
The Wildcats shot just 31% from the floor for the game, compared to 46% for Ohio State, with Mcintosh the only Wildcat in double figures. Marc Loving added 10 points and seven rebounds for Ohio State, who held a 38-30 points in the paint advantage over Northwestern. The Wildcats did enjoy a 17-7 advantage in second chance points, however.
Three things we learned
1) This is a big win. Yes, it's early January, and there's a ton of basketball left to be played this season, with almost all of it against good teams. But Ohio State will have some tough sledding as they try to beat the elite in the conference, so wins against that middle-tier, especially on the road, are even more valuable. After two questionable losses and some missed opportunities in non-conference play, Ohio State's margin for error is pretty small, and grabbing a win over a similar level team, even if, yes, it's Northwestern, is a big deal. If the Buckeyes can find a way to win at Indiana in their next game, they can start to feel a lot better about their potential postseason chances.
2) The Buckeyes were lucky to win with such terrible free throw shooting. Ohio State was terrible from the stripe tonight, shooting 10-22. Jae'Sean Tate struggled especially, going 1-6. Ohio State struggled mightily shooting from downtown, but this wouldn't have been nearly as close a game if Ohio State was able to help themselves just a little bit with the freebies. The Buckeyes can attack the basket well and give themselves opportunities, but this team isn't good enough to leave ten free points on the table against better Big Ten squads.
3) Ugly wins are still wins. Ohio State didn't have the best looking wins against Illinois, or other non-conference teams, and this win was especially hard to watch at times, with the missed shots, the free throws and the turnovers. But Ohio State picked up their first true road win of the season thanks to defense, keeping their cool down the stretch, and a huge night from Kam Williams. You're not always going to have your shots fall, but good teams find ways to grind out road wins when you don't have those buckets. Ohio State took a big step forward to showing they can be a postseason team with this performance today.