In the unfamiliar confines of the Allstate Arena is Rosemont, Ill., the No. 22 Ohio State Buckeyes (16-4, 7-0) knocked off the Northwestern Wildcats (11-9, 2-5), 71-65. The darlings of the Big Ten last season, the ‘Cats went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, but this season, they have struggled to replicate the things that made them successful last year.
With their seventh conference victory on the season, the Buckeyes have already equaled their total B1G wins from the 2016-2017 season. This one wasn’t easy, or pretty, especially early on for the Buckeyes. After looking nearly perfect over the last three games, OSU struggled from the field and failed to take care of the ball more than they have since the early games of the season.
The leading candidate for conference player of the year, Keita Bates-Diop didn’t have his best game of the season, but fortunately, Holtmann’s squad was able to use a team-effort to keep NU at bay, despite a furious rally late in the second half.
Down 6-0 early, the Buckeyes went 0-5 from the floor to open the action until Bates-Diop started the OSU scoring with a bank shot in the lane. Northwestern hit their first three shots from the field, and senior forward Gavin Skelly paced the Wildcats with seven early points.
However, as the Buckeyes got back into the game, they were led by their veterans Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate. While neither team shot particularly well early, the OSU leaders combined for nine of the team’s first 11 points.
The early going was a bit sloppy for both teams, as they combined for eight turnovers (four apiece) in the first 10 minutes of the game. Ohio state freshman Musa Jallow had two early on, not exactly justifying his playing time, and he sat for the rest of the first half.
The Buckeyes took their first lead of the night following another NU turnover that led to a C.J. Jackson fast-break, old-fashioned three-point play. With the converted free-throw, OSU went up 17-15.
From there, OSU extended its lead to 21-15, leading NU head coach Chris Collins to call a timeout just inside of seven minutes in the half. On the first play back, Scottie Lindsey threw down a monstrous two-handed dunk after a back-door bounce-pass from Vic Law perfectly placed between two Buckeye defenders.
Despite the poor shooting and the careless ball-handling, OSU built a double-digit lead at 31-21. Unlike in many of the games this season, Bates-Diop did not turn in a game-defining performance in the first half. Instead, seven different Buckeyes combined for 12 field goals. Kaleb Wesson, Tate, and Jackson led the Buckeyes with six points apiece. KBD, the leading scorer in the conference, had only five. Ohio State led 33-25 at the half.
Skelly was the top man for NU with nine after 20 minutes, followed by Lindsey with eight, and Law with seven. The Buckeyes worked their way to 40.7 percent (12-29) from the field in the first 20 minutes, while NU went 10-27 (34.6%). The big difference was that OSU led the second-chance point battle 8-0.
As the second half began, OSU senior Kam Williams hit a deep-two and a three to expand the Buckeyes’ lead to 11, 38-27. However, as the Wildcats began to turn up the defensive pressure, including throwing in a trapping zone at times, they continued to cut into the lead, getting it down to 39-31 before Tate hit a reverse layup right before the under-16 timeout, and Jackson hit a three-pointer shortly thereafter. However, with neither team playing all that well, the game never felt like it was out of hand.
That was until the Buckeyes went on a run hitting five straight buckets, from five different players, including Andrew Dakich’s second triple of the game and a sweet reverse layup by Bates-Diop, which put OSU up 51-36.
As the half progressed, both teams found their shooting strokes, and Micah Potter had his best game of the season by far. After picking up two fouls in the first half, Potter finally appeared to be healthy as he got to double-figures for the first time on the season. In fact, the sophomore was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor, and led the Buckeyes’ scoring effort with 13.
For their part, the ‘Cats stayed in the game by finding their stroke from deep. NU hit four threes in a five minute period in the second half, after connecting only twice from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
After an air-balled corner three attempt by Jackson, Law hit a jumper that got NU to within seven points. Then on the ‘Cats’ next possession, after a Tate layup, Law hit a triple to cut the OSU lead to 68-62.
The teams traded turnovers, as Dakich stole it from Lindsey, then NU’s backcourt pressure led to Andrew Wesson throwing the ball straight into the Wildcats’ bench. A Jackson brick by led directly to a Lindsey three-pointer to get the game to 68-65.
With :26.8 left in the game, Jackson converted on two free-throws to give the Buckeyes a five-point lead. On the next possession, Jackson hit the front-end of a 1-and-1, then collected the rebound on his missed free-throw to end the game in favor of OSU.
The Buckeyes will return to the hardwood on Saturday, as they travel to the most famous arena on Earth, Madison Square Garden, to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The game will tip at noon ET and will be broadcast on BTN, and is part of the annual Super Saturday Hoops & Hockey Doubleheader. The Gophers and Michigan State will take to the ice in the nightcap.