The No. 21 Ohio State Buckeyes hosted the Northwestern Wildcats on Wednesday night looking to win back-to-back Big Ten contests for the first time this season. Chris Holtmann’s team came up just short the last time these two teams met, with Duane Washington Jr.’s potential game-winning layup just barely missing as OSU fell 71-70 in Evanston less than a month ago. Ohio State was able to get the best of Chris Collin’s guys this time around, defeating the ‘Cats 81-71 in Columbus to move to 10-3 overall on the year and one game above .500 (4-3) in conference play.
The Buckeyes got a fantastic effort from Washington, scoring a career-high 23 points to go along with six assists and three boards while turning the ball over only once as the team’s primary ball-handler. Justice Sueing was strong with 13 points and seven rebounds, while Justin Ahrens added 12 points on a 4-of-5 effort from three-point land including some big shots down the stretch. Ohio State was able to survive a career game from Northwestern guard Chase Audige, as he led the Wildcats with 25 points.
Ohio State had one of its best shooting performances of the season, hitting 50% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. They won the battle on the boards 39-35, led by E.J. Liddell’s 10 rebounds and Kyle Young’s nine. It was an impressive effort all around from a Buckeyes unit that was playing without a few key guys.
Beat up backcourt
Before things tipped off on Wednesday night, Ohio State knew it would be down a pair of guards. The Buckeyes were already without starting point guard C.J. Walker last time out in the win against Rutgers, as the senior remains out indefinitely with torn ligaments in his right hand. On top of that, Chris Holtmann’s team has now lost Walker’s replacement in the starting lineup, as Jimmy Sotos missed tonight’s matchup against Northwestern with a shoulder injury he sustained in the final minutes against the Scarlet Knights.
The Bucknell transfer played well last game in Walker’s absence, playing a season-high 28 minutes with six points and four assists. In addition to Sotos and Walker, Ohio State was already without grad transfer Abel Porter, whose basketball playing days came to a halt after the discovery of a career-ending heart condition this offseason. This leaves the Buckeyes incredibly thin at guard, but especially so when it comes to running the point.
Holtmann’s starting five against Northwestern saw Duane Washington Jr. lined up at point guard, with Justin Ahrens joining him in the backcourt and the usual trio of Justice Sueing, E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young as the forwards. The lack of guard depth will likely lead to more playing time for guys like Ahrens, Musa Jallow and Eugene Brown. Reclassified freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. could also see increased minutes moving forward.
Our starting ️ vs. Northwestern:— Ohio State Hoops (@OhioStateHoops) January 13, 2021
Justin Ahrens (@ahrensjustin12)
Justice Sueing (@JusticeSueing)
Kyle Young (@kyle_young25)
EJ Liddell (@EasyE2432)
Duane Washington (@dwizthekid4)#GoBuckeyes #Team122 pic.twitter.com/ig1bjuDy6F
An Audige-ous start
It was the Chase Audige show for Northwestern to open things up. The sophomore guard scored the Wildcats’ first 11 points of the game, and scored 15 of the team’s first 17 points overall on an impressive 7-of-8 from the field over the first 10 minutes of action. It quickly turned into a one-on-one battle between Audige and Washington, as the Ohio State guard had 11 of the Buckeyes’ first 19 points at the other end over that same stretch.
Having seen Ohio State’s previous shooting woes, the ‘Cats were giving up a bit of space at the three-point line early on, but this time around the Buckeyes were knocking it down. The home team drilled five of their first eight attempts from beyond the arc, including Washington’s 3-of-4 start from deep. With guard depth an issue, Ohio State looked to Sueing and Washington to run the offense, and the pair were facilitating things well despite the unusual assignment.
Audige had a field day in the first half, heading into the locker room with 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting to go along with four rebounds and an assist.
Meechie for three!
The 6-foot-2 freshman guard from Cleveland is supposed to be a senior in high school. Instead, he elected to reclassify to the 2020 class, knowing that he was ready and could make an impact right away in Columbus. With so many guys down for Ohio State in the backcourt, Johnson got his first real chance to show his stuff on Wednesday night, and he made the most of it as he knocked down his very first career shot in a Buckeye uniform on a corner three in the opening period of action.
Speaking of three-point shooting, Northwestern looked like they had taken a page out of the Ohio State playbook with how poorly they shot the rock from downtown in the first period. As a team, the Wildcats managed to hit just one of their first 11 shots from beyond the arc. Conversely, the Buckeyes — who ranked 12th in the Big Ten hitting at a 32.1% clip from range coming into the game — managed to hit at a higher than average 8-of-18 (44.4%) from three-point land through the opening 20 minutes. Led by Washington’s 17 points, Ohio State was able to take a 42-33 lead into halftime.
Johnson finished the first period with six points on a pair of three-balls with one rebound and one assist as the young man was clearly building confidence with every additional minute he saw the floor.
Getting sloppy with it
Ohio State was outplaying Northwestern in almost all facets of the game, but the one area they really started to struggle — especially in the second half — was in the turnover department. The Buckeyes came into the night with the second-least turnovers per game in the Big Ten at 9.8 per contest, but on the other end the Wildcats rank in the upper half of the conference averaging 5.9 steals per game. Something had to give, and Ohio State gave indeed to the tune of 11 turnovers.
These giveaways seemed to come in bunches in the second half, and after leading by as much as 13 points, the Buckeyes allowed Northwestern to get back within six points less than midway through the second period. What was especially troubling were the points off turnovers, where the Wildcats had 16 points off Ohio State’s giveaways. On the flip side, the ‘Cats turned the ball over just four times all game, helping to offset some of their poor shooting and allowing them to hang around for longer than they should've.
There was, however, this key Northwestern turnover:
Deja vú — or not!
In almost a mirror image of the last time these two teams met, Ohio State went cold down the stretch and allowed Northwestern right back into a game that the Buckeyes had largely dominated for the first 30 minutes. After Young’s layup made it 64-52 Ohio State with 9:32 remaining, Holtmann’s team proceeded to miss seven of their next eight shots as the Wildcats opened up an 8-0 run. With 4:05 to go, all of the sudden Northwestern trailed just 67-66 as the Buckeyes continued to sputter on the offensive end.
Luckily for Ohio State, this time around they got a massive bucket from Justin Ahrens. The forward drilled a three — his fourth of the game — to break the Northwestern run and put the Buckeyes back up by four. A few possessions later, Justice Sueing drove down the court and converted a layup through contact for an and-one. Shortly thereafter, Ohio State got yet another and-one by Kyle Young. The trio of highlight plays really sparked the home team, and momentum seemed to swing back in the Buckeyes’ favor as they opened up a nine-point lead with a little over two minutes remaining.