After suffering their worst defeat of the season on Saturday to Purdue in West Lafayette, Ohio State (18-11, 8-10) will try and regroup against Northwestern (12-17, 3-15), the worst team in the Big Ten this year. The Buckeyes are 30-2 against the Wildcats since 2000, and have amassed a 119-46 all-time record against Northwestern. Ohio State and Northwestern will tip from Evanston at 9 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network
Ohio State looked like they had firmly locked up a NCAA Tournament bid with last Tuesday’s win over Iowa, but things have gone terribly wrong for the Buckeyes since. Not only was Kaleb Wesson suspended on Friday for a violation of athletic department policy, but the Buckeyes then were blasted by Purdue 86-51 in West Lafayette on Saturday afternoon. Yesterday it was announced that Wesson would miss tonight’s game against Northwestern due to the suspension.
The good news for Ohio State is they should have some confidence heading into tonight’s matchup since they defeated Northwestern in Columbus just two weeks ago. The Buckeyes and Wildcats didn’t get much going in the first half of their last meeting, with Ohio State taking a 24-20 lead into halftime. The Buckeyes were able to find their scoring touch in the second half, pulling away from Northwestern to secure a 63-49 win.
The bad news for Ohio State is Kaleb Wesson was most of the offense for the Buckeyes in the first meeting this season between the schools, with the sophomore scoring 22 points and pulling down eight rebounds against the Wildcats. Kyle Young and Duane Washington Jr. each scored eight points off the bench, while Keyshawn Woods and Andre Wesson added seven points each.
While it is tough to replace a player like Kaleb Wesson on the court, the one bright spot for the Buckeyes on Saturday against Purdue was Jaedon LeDee, who was the lone Buckeye to reach double figures in the scoring column against the Boilermakers, finishing with 16 points in 22 minutes.
Heading into Saturday’s game, Ohio State fans figured there would be a different freshman making noise against the Boilermakers. After burying six three-pointers and finishing with 29 points in last week’s win over Iowa, Justin Ahrens was the talk of the Buckeye basketball program for a few days. Ahrens wasn’t able to come anywhere close to replicating his performance against the Hawkeyes on Saturday, missing the only shot he attempted in 20 minutes on the floor.
Ahrens wasn’t the only Buckeyes to have a terrible game against Purdue. C.J. Jackson only hit one of his six field goal attempts, finishing with a season-low two points. Even though he is averaging 11.9 points per game this year, Jackson has struggled mightily of late, failing to score more than eight points in each of the last four games he has played in. Over his last four games, Jackson is just 8-31 from the field.
Northwestern is just two years removed from their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. After beating Vanderbilt and nearly upsetting Gonzaga in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats have struggled to get back to the Big Dance. Last year Northwestern finished with a 15-17 record, and this year the Wildcats have already matched their loss total from last season. Even with the two down years, head coach Chris Collins is 95-86 in his six seasons in Evanston.
The Wildcats enter tonight’s game on a 10-game losing streak, and is sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Northwestern’s latest loss came on Sunday night, falling at Illinois 81-76. Dererk Pardon scored a team-high 16 points and pulled down nine rebounds in the loss, while Ryan Taylor and Miller Kopp each added 13 points. A.J. Turner was productive off the bench for the Wildcats, scoring 12 points in 33 minutes.
Northwestern might have been able to snap their losing streak on Sunday night had they gotten a little more production from leading scorer Vic Law. The senior forward came into the game averaging 15 points per game, but hit just three of his 12 field goal attempts and finishing with nine points before fouling out. The Buckeyes were able to hold Law in check in their first meeting of the season, with Law scoring 10 points in Ohio State’s 14-point victory.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 54.1%
Nothing is going to come easy for Ohio State tonight. Not only will the Buckeyes be up against it by having to travel to Evanston to take on the Northwestern, but Ohio State will also be without their best player. If Jaedon LeDee isn’t able to continue to build on the progress he showed against Purdue on Saturday, it could lead to a big night for Dererk Pardon and Vic Law on the inside.
The biggest question for Ohio State tonight is going to be which version of Justin Ahrens is going to show up? If the Justin Ahrens that torched Iowa shows up for the Buckeyes, it is going to be tough to slow down Ohio State. If Ahrens is able to get his shot going from the outside, it will open up the inside for LeDee, Andre Wesson, and Kyle Young. If Ahrens is invisible like he was against Purdue on Saturday it could be another ugly game for the Buckeyes.
While a number of freshmen are having to step into some big roles for the Buckeyes, Ohio State needs a senior to steady the ship. C.J. Jackson has been off his game of late, which is something the Buckeyes can’t afford if they are going to make it to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year. Ohio State needs Jackson to turn into the floor general that we have seen glimpses of and take control of this basketball team when the Buckeyes need his leadership the most.