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Ahrens, Carton spark Ohio State to 71-59 win over Northwestern

Bench contributions were the difference as Ohio State pulled out a big win on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a heartbreaking defeat to the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Thursday and having lost six of their last seven games, a matchup with the last place Northwestern Wildcats (6-13, 1-8) seemed like the perfect antidote to the Ohio State Buckeyes’ (13-7, 3-6) recent woes. While it was not as easy of a victory as many had hoped, OSU got the much-needed win 71-59, as they pulled away late.

Entering the game, Northwestern boasted just the thirteenth best offense in the Big Ten, scoring 66.7 points per game (for comparison, Ohio State currently has the seventh best scoring offense in the B1G, averaging 73.2 points per game). Despite what looked like a favorable matchup on the surface, Ohio State not only was tasked with overcoming Northwestern on Sunday night, but the excitable road venue as well.

Before play began on Sunday, B1G road teams had a 14-47 record on the road in conference play. The Buckeyes were 0-4 on the road in conference play heading into this one. Any road win, even against lower tier teams, is a huge victory this season in the Big Ten. Some would even say that they should be celebrated as national holidays.

Despite the results of their previous game, head coach Chris Holtmann stuck with the same starting five against Northwestern as he did versus Minnesota. CJ Walker and Luther Muhammad were the starting guards, with Kyle Young, Andre Wesson, and Kaleb Wesson as the wings. It is worth noting that Kaleb Wesson had arguably his worst game of the season against Minnesota, scoring two points on 1-of-10 shooting, but also pulling down 14 rebounds.

Much like the previous half dozen games or so, Ohio State’s offense did not wake up until several minutes had gone by. Ohio State’s first bucket of the game came at the 15:43 mark, when Kaleb Wesson’s wild hook shot was corralled by his brother Andre under the basket, who promptly put it back up for the first Buckeye points of the night.

The Wesson-to-Wesson bucket was promptly matched on the ensuing Northwestern possession, however, when the Wildcats’ Ryan Young drove to the basket for a layup, putting them up 9-2 at the first media timeout. The Buckeyes, who turned the ball over three times in the first five minutes, looked disjointed, unfocused, and undisciplined in the opening minutes.

But at the 10:35 mark, the Buckeyes got a boost from an unlikely source, Justin Ahrens. The sophomore, who did not play at all in the Buckeyes’ loss to Minnesota and was averaging just 2.5 points per game heading into Sunday’s game, canned not one, but two 3-pointers to get the Buckeyes back in the game. His contribution helped pull Ohio State into a 19-19 tie at the under-8 media timeout at the 7:05 mark of the first half.

Coming out of that media timeout, a Northwestern turnover led to an Ohio State two-on-one fast break, where Andre Wesson was fouled on the shot. After hitting both free throws, Northwestern head coach Chris Collins was issued a technical foul for arguing the Wesson foul call for just a bit too long. Wesson hit both free throws (again), giving Ohio State a 23-19 lead.

However, hitting four free throws in one possession was not enough for the older Wesson brother, apparently. The next Buckeye possession ended with Andre Wesson driving to the basket and scoring over three Wildcat defenders. The very next possession? An Andre Wesson 3-pointer. The 9-0 Andre Wesson-run pushed the Ohio State lead to 30-23, and D.J. Carton capped off the rally with a triple of his own on the ensuing possession, giving Ohio State a 33-23 lead.

Northwestern, led by freshman forward Miller Kopp, clawed back and cut the Ohio State lead down to three by halftime, 38-35. Kopp, who leads Northwestern in scoring at 13.3 points per game, had 15 in the first half of this game, keeping the Wildcats afloat. As a team, Northwestern shot 50 percent from the floor.

Ohio State shot 43.3 percent in the first half, but were carried by hot 3-point shooting, knocking down 6 of their 14 attempts from beyond the arc. Andre Wesson led the Buckeyes in the first half in scoring and rebounds, with 11 and 4.

After blowing a nine-point halftime lead in their loss to Minnesota on Thursday night, Ohio State was certainly cognizant of the importance of keeping their collective foot on the pedal and and not falling behind late, like they did against the Gophers. The Buckeyes held firm early in the second half, taking a 41-39 lead into the first media timeout, but were unable to create any real separation until later.

Ohio State probably thought they had a bit of breathing room when Ahrens, who hit two 3-pointers in the first half, canned his fourth of the game at the 11:22 mark to push the Ohio State lead to nine. But NU’s Pete Nance matched those three points out on the very next possession with a triple of his own, bringing the lead back down to six. Ahrens, whose previous season-high was nine points against Purdue-Fort Wayne back in November, had 12 points with over 10 minutes remaining in this game.

Kaleb Wesson, who played well following a poor performance against Minnesota, picked up his fourth foul of the game at the 7:55 mark of the second half, leaving Ohio State vulnerable in the post. Northwestern took advantage of that, scoring back-to-back buckets down low, to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 59-55 at the 5:00 mark.

But as soon as Northwestern punched, Ohio State had a counter-punch, and his name was D.J. Carton. The dynamic freshman scored on back-to-back possessions for Ohio State, with the first coming on free throws and the second on an alley-oop that was bound to be a turnover before Carton was able to pull it in and gracefully drop it in the bucket for a pseudo-dunk, extending the Buckeye lead to 63-55.

Unlike in their loss to Minnesota, Ohio State did not relinquish their lead on Sunday night. When the final buzzer sounded, the Buckeyes had wrapped up a 71-59 win over Northwestern on the road, their first road win in conference play and just the 15th overall in the B1G this season.

Carton led the Buckeyes in scoring off the bench with 17 points to go along with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a few thunderous dunks:

Ahrens chipped in a season-high 12 on four 3-pointers. Andre and Kaleb Wesson each had 11 points, with Kaleb coming one rebound short of a double-double. As a team, Ohio State shot 44.1 percent from the floor, and won the rebounding battle 37-35.

Kopp led Northwestern with 20 points, however 15 of those came in the first half as the Buckeyes adjusted well and limited him in the second half to just five points. Pat Spencer, a graduate transfer and former college lacrosse player, scored 13 for Chris Collins’ Wildcats.

With the win, Ohio State is now 13-7 overall and 3-6 in conference play. The BasketBucks will take the court next on Saturday when they welcome the Indiana Hoosiers (15-5, 5-4) to Columbus for a noon tipoff in the Schottenstein Center.

That game will be broadcast on ESPN. Indiana won the previous meeting with the Buckeyes on January 11, which resulted in a 66-54 Indiana win in Bloomington.