With fewer than 10 games remaining in the season and the losses piling up, time is running out for Ohio State (11-13, 3-10) to scrape together enough wins to have a chance at competing in the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time under head coach Chris Holtmann.
A season that began with hopes of winning a Big Ten title — or at least competing for one — are long game. The Buckeyes are now playing for their tournament lives, and even if they do go on a late run this season, the odds still are not good. Ohio State entered tonight’s game against Northwestern with nine conference losses, which is a number that would get them in the NCAA Tournament if it held and OSU won each of their final eight games.
But things went similarly to how they’ve gone over the past month-plus — badly. Northwestern (17-7, 8-5) avenged their New Year’s Day loss to the Buckeyes, winning 69-63 Thursday night in Columbus. Northwestern was led by Boo Buie and Brooks Barnhizer, who each scored 19 points. Chase Audige scored 12 as well. Justice Sueing had 19 points for Ohio State, and Bruce Thornton also scored a dozen and had three assists.
Ohio State rolled with a lineup of Thornton, Sean McNeil, Sueing, Isaac Likekele, and Zed Key. Chris Collins countered with a starting five of Buie, Ty Berry, Audige, Robbie Beran, and Matt Nicholson.
Unlike each of the last two games, Ohio State jumped out to an early lead instead of falling behind right from the get-go. Thanks to five quick points from Key, the Buckeyes held a 9-6 lead by the first media timeout 5:19 into the game. The Buckeyes’ first nine points of the game all came in the paint, with Likekele and Felix Okpara also scoring.
ZED KEY!! Throwin' it down! @iamzedkey x @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/q0HOjCnavE— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 10, 2023
Northwestern “battled” —if you want to call it that — to a 17-15 lead at the under-eight media timeout with 7:40 remaining in the first half. Both teams were barely shooting 40% from the floor over the first 12 or so minutes, and the two teams also combined for eight turnovers by this point. Had Ohio State not missed each of their first seven three-pointers, they may have had a lead.
Northwestern ran an inbounds play to Nick Martinelli with four seconds remaining in the first half and he scored off the glass to give Northwestern a 28-27 lead heading to the halftime locker room. Buie had nine first-half points for the Wildcats, who actually shot worse overall in the first half (42.3%) than the Buckeyes (54.2%).
The gorgeous spin by @N_Martinelli1 for @NUMensBball before the buzzer pic.twitter.com/IQknBvEYzH— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 10, 2023
Ohio State missed all nine of their first-half three-point attempts but went 13-15 from two-point range. Additionally, Brice Sensabaugh was the only Buckeyes (of nine) to not score in the first half.
Ohio State finally knocked down their first three-pointer of the game 2:26 into the second half courtesy of McNeil, which tied the game up 33-33. Ohio State fell behind by five points momentarily, but held a 37-35 lead at the first media timeout of the second half.
MCNEIL @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/S8fXxu8x2l— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 10, 2023
Beran knocked down his second triple of the game with 10:34 to go to tie things up 45-all, but Thornton answered with a floater to get the Buckeyes back up by a pair of points. Chris Collins immediately called timeout, as the chess match between two coaches desperately in need of a win continued.
The Wildcats moved back in front 51-47 by the under-eight timeout thanks to a three from Berry, who had missed his first four shots from downtown before that. To this point in the game, neither team had a lead larger than six points at any time, and there were 10 lead changes.
However, Northwestern went on a 7-0 run courtesy of Buie and Barnhizer to go up 61-52 with just over four minutes remaining. Buie shot four consecutive free throws after being fouled on two drives, and Barnhizer hammered his fourth triple of the game to give Chris Collins’ squad their biggest lead yet.
The Buckeyes clawed back late — as they have been prone to do after falling behind — but were not able to complete the comeback at home, as they ultimately fell to the (most likely) tournament-bound Wildcats.
If you didn’t stay up to see Ohio State lose their 10th game in their last 11, here are a few key moments and runs that eventually did the Buckeyes in:
A new man?
For the first time since injuring his shoulder against Purdue on Jan. 5, Key was able to warm up without the large shoulder brace that made it “hard for him to breathe” according to Chris Holtmann. He put it back on before the start of the game, but early on he looked much healthier and more comfortable than he has in several weeks, scoring on a three-point play and also dunking over the top of Nicholson to score five of Ohio State’s first nine points.
There were a number of times throughout the game were Key appeared to be in significant pain after being hit in his shoulder, so while it appeared that he is regaining his full range of motion, there is clearly still a lot of pain involved. He finished with eight points (3-5 shooting), 10 rebounds, two assists, and a block over 28 minutes.
Wildcats get a wild start beyond the arc
At 31.6%, Northwestern is 11th in the Big Ten in three-point shooting, but that didn’t discourage them from letting it fly early — or from knocking them down. The Wildcats canned three of their first six, with one each coming from Buie, Audige, and Brooks Barnhizer.
Northwestern went on to finish 12-29 (41.4%) from three-point land, compared to 1-14 (7.1%) for Ohio State.
OSU uses an 8-0 run to take back the lead
After falling behind 17-15 with 10 minutes remaining in the half and going over four minutes straight without a basket, the Buckeyes went on an 8-0 run over the next five minutes to go ahead 23-17. Ohio State got buckets from Roddy Gayle, Sueing, McNeil, and Tanner Holden during the run, and interestingly enough Brice Sensabaugh did not have a basket to this point. The Buckeyes were getting it done early without their best offensive player, which is quite a changeup from the season script thus far.
Northwestern scores at the buzzer to take a halftime lead
After falling behind 23-17, the Wildcats outscored the Buckeyes 11-4 over the final five minutes to take a 28-27 lead into the halftime locker room. Inbounding the ball from the side with four seconds left, Northwestern got the ball to Nick Martinelli on the left block who spun around Sueing and glassed one just in time to take the lead back. Martinelli finished with four points and an assist over 14 minutes.
These numbers make no sense?
If I told you that Ohio State’s leading scorer had zero at halftime and that the Buckeyes missed all nine of their three-point attempts, what do you think their overall field goal percentage would be? Today, it was 54.2% — an elite mark.
Oddly enough, the Buckeyes were 13-15 (86.6%) from two-point range in the first half, and 0-9 from distance. Eight of the nine guys who saw time in the first half scored for OSU — the only one who did not was Sensabaugh.
Sensabaugh scores for the first time, flips the lead once again
Whether it was game script, personnel-related, or Holtmann just not liking what he saw from Sensabaugh in the first half, Ohio State’s star freshman did not score his first basket of the game until the 12:32 mark of the second half. His long stepback two gave Ohio State a 43-42 lead.
Sensabaugh only played six minutes during the first half and was 0-2 shooting with a turnover and a steal. He checked in at the 13:52 mark of the second half for his first action of the second stanza. He would go on to finish with four points on 1-8 shooting over 16 minutes. He also had one assist, two steals, and four turnovers.
Barnhizer’s three puts Northwestern up nine late
After Thornton’s floater got Ohio State back within two points with 6:06 remaining, Northwestern scored seven straight over the next 1:22 to take a 61-52 lead. Barnhizer capped the run with a three-pointer — his fourth of the game — which also tied his season-high of 18 points.
Barnhizer finished with a new season-high 19 points on 7-10 shooting, including 4-7 from three, over 28 minutes. He also had four rebounds.
Sueing goes on a 5-0 run to make it closer
Trailing 61-52 with just under five minutes remaining, Sueing scored five consecutive points all on his own to get Ohio State back within two possessions, 61-57. He then went to the line with a chance to hit two free throws and make it a two-point game, but he missed both, and Ohio State still trailed by four.
Sueing finished his game with 19 points on 7-11 shooting over 34 minutes. He was 7-8 from two-point range and 0-3 from beyond the arc. Justice also had eight rebounds, two assists, and three turnovers.
Ohio State (11-13, 3-10) hosts Michigan State (15-9, 7-6) Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET — six hours ahead of the Super Bowl — on CBS. This is the first of two meetings between the teams this season. The Spartans recently snapped a two-game losing streak with a home win over Maryland on Tuesday evening, 63-58. Tom Izzo’s team is currently the No. 42 team in the country according to KenPom, and has the No. 27-rated defense.