For 30 minutes Tuesday night Ohio State couldn’t get anything going.
The Buckeyes struggled from the field, failed to capitalize on Northwestern turnovers and were dominated on the boards. Then with 10 minutes left and trailing by nine Thad Matta’s team snapped out of it to control the final quarter of the game and give the home team a 71-63 win.
Ohio State (15-10, 7-6) caught fire on a 15-2 run during which the Buckeyes turned a 48-39 deficit into a 54-50 advantage with 5:01 remaining. The spurt saw five different Buckeyes score as Keita Bates-Diop led the way with six points in the run, including a jumper with 5:58 remaining that gave his team its first lead since taking a 9-6 advantage just 4:32 into the game.
“We just needed some type of spark,” junior Marc Loving said. “Our press really switched it up and we were able to get the tempo going a little faster than it was going at the time and we were able to come up with some key turnovers that we were able to convert into easy buckets.”
“We’re just telling each other they’re going to fall, just we have faith in one another and we were never going to quit. We didn’t feel like at one point in the game it was unreachable for us to tie the game up and take the lead, but we just had to stick together and I just credit that to everyone on the team having extreme confidence in one another.”
As the forward said the game-sealing run came with stout defense as the Buckeyes forced five Northwestern turnovers over the stretch, a product of a 1-2-2 full-court press that Ohio State employed. The Buckeyes had used that look before this season, but it was at its most effective against the Wildcats because of who Matta used in the lineup.
Loving was in the back of the press for the first time this season, he said, while Matta employed the length of the 6-7 Bates-Diop at the top of the zone.
“I think that Keita was phenomenal up there in terms of the angles he was taking,” Matta said. “Even the second and third lines were doing a good job and there were a couple times where they were open over the top, but Keita had his hands up and they couldn’t make the pass which gave us time to keep rotating. It was beautiful to see because five guys were moving on the bounce and on the pass and that was big for us.”
The victory secured a season sweep of the Wildcats (16-9, 4-8) and allowed Ohio State to avoid a historic loss. The Buckeyes have not lost a home game to Northwestern since falling 83-77 on Feb. 24, 1977. Matta improved to 19-1 against the Wildcats in his Ohio State tenure with the win.
Northwestern would continue to battle over the final minutes, snapping Ohio State’s run with a three-pointer from Tre Demps and tying the game at 56 with one from Scottie Lindsey with 3:54 remaining. A three from JaQuan Lyle on the next Buckeye possession would give them a 59-56 advantage it wouldn’t surrender over the final 3:39 as they didn't miss from the free throw line.
Ohio State, which entered the game hitting 65.3 percent from the line on the season, hit 16 of 17 from the charity stripe in the second half to finish 19-of-23 on the night (82.6 percent).
Lyle, who reentered the starting lineup against Northwestern along with Trevor Thompson after the pair came off the bench in the previous four contests, finished with a game-high 16, with 13 coming in the second half, including the crucial three late.
“JaQuan grew up tonight because he was not very good in the first half just in terms of his poise and being a point guard,” Matta said. “We had a long discussion at halftime, everybody kind of got an earful and I just kind of went from guy-to-guy. That was a big shot for us and the guys hit some really big shots for us down the stretch.
The freshman point guard was one of five Buckeyes in double figures as Loving added 15, Thompson 12, Bates-Diop 11 and Tate 10.
The Buckeyes scored just 39 points over the game's first 29:59, hitting 16 of 42 shots from the field (38.1 percent), but scored at a blistering pace over the final 10:01, pouring in 32 points while hitting 7 of 14 shots (50 percent).
“I feel like our pace on offense was very lackluster,” Thompson said of the early going. “We weren’t really cutting hard. We weren’t really flowing. I feel like the biggest thing was we just had to wake up and what coach was saying we just had to lose ourselves in playing for Ohio State and we have to lose ourselves as a team. I feel like in the second half we did a really good job of having fun, enjoying ourselves and playing as a team.”
Things were poor from the start for the Buckeyes as Demps hit a three on the first possession for Northwestern while fellow Wildcat Bryant McIntosh did the same on the team’s next possession.
The start was characteristic of the first 30 minutes for the Wildcats as McIntosh and Demps, the team’s two leading scorers, continually hit threes when Northwestern most needed them. The pair finished with 14 apiece, helping the Wildcats to shoot 12 of 27 from long range (44.4 percent).
The success from distance and an 25-15 first-half advantage on the boards allowed the Wildcats to control the majority of the game, but the teams 14 turnovers caught up with them when it mattered thanks to a press from the Buckeyes and Ohio State bounced back to control the glass 19-13 in the second frame.
Ohio State recovered from the horrible first-half shooting to finish the game hitting 41.1 percent from the field.