No. 23 Ohio State (7-1, 1-1) looked like they were headed towards their second loss in the last three games on Wednesday when they fell behind the 11th-ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights by 16 points early in the second half. Much like the victory against Notre Dame earlier this month, the Buckeyes turned up the intensity to close out the game to earn the comeback victory.
Last time out
The Buckeyes trailed Rutgers 53-38 with 13:36 to go before making their move. Harvard transfer Seth Towns’ first points in the scarlet and gray started a 23-8 run that would see Ohio State tie the Scarlet Knights at 61 with just under five minutes to play. The Buckeyes wouldn’t take the foot off the gas once they evened up the score, outscoring Rutgers 19-7 to close out the game.
Ohio State was paced by Duane Washington Jr., who scored a season-high 22 points on Wednesday. The junior guard has now reached double figures on the scoresheet in each of Ohio State’s eight games this season, and is averaging a team-high 15.4 points per game this season. Washington also hit four three-pointers against the Scarlet Knights, which were the most he has hit from behind the arc this season.
Returning to action on Saturday against UCLA after missing the previous two games due to illness, E.J. Liddell netted a career-high 21 points against Rutgers. Liddell did most of his scoring when it mattered most on Wednesday, putting up 13 points in the second half. The sophomore forward sits just behind Washington when it comes to scoring this year, averaging 15.3 points per game. Liddell is also second in rebounding for the Buckeyes, pulling down 6.5 boards per game.
Sitting just ahead of Liddell when it comes to work on the glass is Kyle Young, who is averaging 6.9 rebounds per game this year. Young had his best game of the season in the comeback win on Wednesday, scoring a career-high 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. The double-double was just the third of the senior forward’s Ohio State career, with the other two coming early last year. Young and Liddell’s rebounding prowess on Wednesday was a huge reason why the Buckeyes were able to out-rebound Rutgers 45-25.
Northwestern at a glance
Now Ohio State will turn their attention to a Northwestern squad who has posted a strong start to the season. The Wildcats (5-1, 2-0) are coming off back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Indiana, marking the first time since the 2008-09 season that Northwestern has beaten the Spartans and Hoosiers in the same season. Northwestern is 2-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since the 2005-06 season, and will be looking for their first 3-0 start in the conference since 1967-68.
The last time Northwestern took the floor, they were able to score a 74-67 victory over the Hoosiers in Bloomington. The victory was the first by the Wildcats at Indiana was since 2014. Much like Ohio State on Wednesday, Northwestern needed a second half rally to secure the victory. The Wildcats trailed 54-50 with just under nine minutes to play before using a 12-0 run to put the Hoosiers away.
Northwestern featured a balanced scoring attack to earn the victory over Indiana. Four Wildcats reached double figures in scoring, marking the fourth time this season that four Northwestern players have scored at least 10 points in a game. Chase Audige led the way with 17 points against the Hoosiers, with all of his points coming in the second half. Miller Kopp and Ryan Young each scored 13 points, while Boo Buie added 11 points.
Ohio State is going to have to tighten up their defense along the perimeter if they want to hand Northwestern their first Big Ten loss of the season. Leading scorer Boo Buie, who is averaging 14.5 points per game, is one of three Wildcats that is not only scoring more than nine points per game, but also shooting at least 50% from three-point range. The Wildcats have stroked at least seven three-pointers in each of their six games this year.
Coaching the Wildcats is Chris Collins, who is in his eighth season in charge in Evanston. Collins has posted a 114-120 record during his time at Northwestern, but is responsible for the lone NCAA Tournament bid in school history. The Wildcats made the tournament in the 2016-17, where Northwestern would finish the season with a 24-12 record. While Northwestern hasn’t been able to replicate the success the last three years, the Wildcats look like they could make some noise in the Big Ten this year.
The Buckeyes have largely dominated the history against Northwestern, posting a 97-23 record all-time. A win over the Wildcats isn’t quite as automatic lately as it had been earlier in the century. Northwestern has won two of the last five meetings after dropping 29 of the previous 30 games against Ohio State. The Buckeyes won the only meeting between the schools last season, defeating the Wildcats 71-59 in Evanston.
Winning on the road in the Big Ten is normally a tough task. This isn’t a normal year, though. The Buckeyes had their back against the wall earlier this month against Notre Dame and were able to respond to the challenge. Just a week later, Ohio State wasn’t able to secure a road win against Purdue, but the Buckeyes were without Liddell and Towns.
The Buckeyes are getting healthy at the right time. The return of Liddell and Towns adds to what was already a deep Ohio State squad. The Buckeyes have a little bit of everything coming off the bench. Toughness and grit with Musa Jallow, shooting and distribution with Towns and Justin Ahrens, and some size with Zed Key. The combination of the bench, along with what the Ohio State starters will throw at Northwestern might be just a little too much for the Wildcats to handle.
The great equalizer is going to be the three-point shot. Often it seems like opponents always seem to have their best shooting games against the Buckeyes, hitting everything they toss up. Northwestern is already a skilled shooting team, so if they are hitting their usual average and beyond, Ohio State is going to be in for a fight to the final buzzer. If the Wildcats are hitting their shots, it’s going to be important that the Buckeyes are excelling in other areas on the floor.
In the end, the Buckeyes will be just a little too deep for Northwestern to handle. This game will be tight throughout, and Ohio State might need to put together another comeback in the second half to earn the victory. Head coach Chris Holtmann is a master at making second half adjustments, and he’ll push the right buttons to deny the Wildcats their first 3-0 Big Ten start in over 50 years.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 54.5%
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