The Buckeyes (10-10, 2-5 Big Ten) will come in off a 65-59 upset of No. 22 Purdue Saturday in West Lafayette.
"One game does not a streak make," OSU coach Jim O‘Brien said. "We need more than one to get on a streak. If we can do that, that would be great. Then the next one (against Michigan State) would carry us to (Feb. 14 at Wisconsin). But there are no givens. These guys (Northwestern) are playing with a lot of confidence. This is not an easy team to play against, nor has it ever been for us. We've had some success, but the games have always been pretty close. I assume it will be another game like that.
"There is nothing like a nice win to put a few smiles on some faces, but now we have to carry it over. We'll see if we're able to do that."
If Ohio State harbors any thoughts of postseason play -- even in the NIT -- this appears to be the stretch where the Buckeyes must get healthy. They play three of their next four games at home. Home games with Michigan State (Saturday) and Iowa (Feb. 18) are sandwiched around a road trip to Wisconsin (Feb. 14).
"After these two games, we play four out of five on the road," O‘Brien said. "This is a very important game for us, and I think they understand that."
Power forward Terence Dials added, "This is definitely the stretch. Coach has been emphasizing that a lot. He's been telling us these couple of games at home, we have to get them. They are big games and games we are capable of winning. We have to go out and play confident. We have a couple games here at home and Coach has been emphasizing how important these games are. Hopefully we can take care of our homecourt."
Value City Arena has been a friendly home for OSU since the Final Four season of 1998-99. OSU boasts an all-time record of 75-17. But they are just 6-4 in the building this season (one home win over Virginia Tech was staged at Nationwide Arena in December).
"My freshman year, we had a pretty good home record," said Dials, who helped the Buckeyes go 15-2 at home in the Big Ten championship season of 2001-02. "Last year, we did a pretty good job of maintaining home court. This year, we've been struggling a little bit. Hopefully, we'll turn it around a little bit."
If this season has been any indication, OSU can expect VCA, with a listed capacity of 19,200, to be about two-thirds full tonight. In fact, the last home game against No. 17 Wisconsin attracted just 13,677 -- the lowest ever for a Big Ten home game in the building.
OSU has only filled the arena once this year -- for the Jan. 4 game with Bob Knight's Texas Tech team. In fact, the Buckeyes have not been within 4,000 fans of that capacity mark before or since. OSU is averaging just 14,276 per game after 10 home games in the building. That figure is off almost 2,000 from last year's average of 16,057, the lowest in the VCA era. Coming off the 1999 Final Four run, OSU averaged a record 18,702 per game in the 1999-2000 season.
But the players maintain they feel they have an advantage by playing at home.
"Our record probably wouldn't indicate it," center Velimir Radinovic admitted. "Our fans are pretty into it. We have to stand behind our fans. They've stood behind us. We haven't been very successful this season. But they still believe in us and they still come to games and cheer us on.
"Personally, I feel comfortable playing in this building and I love playing on this home court. I'm not sure how it affects the other guys individually. I feel that we like playing here and I think we're comfortable playing here, but I can't speak for everybody."
The Wildcats (8-10, 3-4), led by former Princeton coach Bill Carmody, present their own special problems with their deliberate offense.
"There's been a lot of preparation because when you play Northwestern there is a lot you have to prepare for," O‘Brien said. "Their style is different, but our guys have been very attentive.
"They are deliberate. They don't take a lot of quick shots. The game is traditionally low scoring. You have to make some choices yourself in how you want to play them. If you want to pressure them, you become susceptible to some back door cuts. If you want to guard against that and stay in the lane, they can run some clock. They want to also shoot some threes.
"There is a feeling in college basketball that the art of the midrange jump shot has disappeared. These guys exemplify that to a T. It's either layups or threes. The last time we played them here they shot 34 threes. We have to do a good job of guarding against that."
O'Brien has stressed patience with his team.
"If you start gambling to make something happen, they'll get layups," the coach said. "We have to be disciplined. We're going to be on defense for a majority of the game."
His players sounded like they had received the message.
"They play a little different than most," Sullinger said. "They kind of run the Princeton offense. We just have to be ready for it."
Dials added, "They run the Princeton offense with a lot of back screens. They are playing with a lot of confidence right now because they've won three games in the Big Ten. We have to be ready. Sometimes, that can get in your head. We just have to be confident that we are going to score, regardless of what they do on offense."
The Buckeyes faced similar styles against Furman and Samford earlier this year.
"That was the reason we wanted to play Samford and Furman just worked out that way," O'Brien said.
Senior guard Jitim Young leads the Wildcats with an average of 18.5 points a game with junior Vedran Vukusic, listed at 6-8, next with 14.0 points per game. Young also is the leading rebounder for the Wildcats with 6.4 a contest. Six Wildcats have scored 12 or more 3-pointers this season with Vukusic leading the way with 34.
"(Young) is really a tough guy to play against because of the way they play," O‘Brien said. "He's one of the best low post offensive players as a guard as there might be in the country. He had a magnificent game against Minnesota the other day. If he becomes a better three-point shooter, he would really be a tough guy to play against. But he likes to overpower guards near the basket."
Northwestern opened the Big Ten season with wins at Iowa (77-68) and at home vs. Illinois (70-60) before falling the next three times out at Indiana, vs. Michigan and in overtime at Penn State. Northwestern then defeated Minnesota in Evanston, 61-47 last Saturday. The Wildcats were 5-6 in non-conference play, including wins over Bowling Green and Arizona State and losses to Colorado, DePaul, Florida State and Rutgers.
Wrapping Up Purdue
With a dearth of ranked teams in the Big Ten this year, OSU was in danger of going through an entire year with a win over a ranked squad. But that changed Saturday at Purdue. O'Brien reflected on the win.
"There were two very important elements of winning that game," he said. "We were prepared to play when the game started. We got off to a 16-3 lead. They came back and took the lead and we were down by four. We kept our composure and our poise. We made some plays down the stretch to get the lead. That was important."
OSU trailed by four late, but got two three-point plays -- one on a three-pointer by Ricardo Billings and the other a traditional three-point play by Dials -- to grab a lead it would not relinquish.
"That's been the difference for us this season," Dials said. "We haven't made those plays at the end. Ricardo also made a big shot. That was the turning point, I think. I was surprised a guy that young could make a shot that big."
On his three-point play, Dials took a pass from Tony Stockman on the baseline and jammed it home, drawing a foul on the play.
"There was a lot of adrenaline rushing through me on that," Dials said. "There were a lot of things rushing through my head. I just had to finish. The game was on the line. We just had to do what we had to do."
Small forward J.J. Sullinger said the Buckeyes can not afford to dwell on that victory.
"Everybody is excited about the win, but that's in the past," he said. "If we don't win (tonight), we're right back where we were before the Purdue game. We've got to win (tonight). It's a must-win for us.
"It is a little bit different since we won. We know we can compete now. We don't know it just by saying it, but because we did it."
* The Buckeyes own more victories over Northwestern (103) than against any other opponent in school history. The Wildcats have 44 wins in the series but have not won in the last nine games. Ohio State faces Northwestern just once this season. The game in Columbus will be the 76th meeting on the OSU campus between the two teams. Ohio State is 61-14 all-time in the series when the teams square off in Columbus. The Buckeyes are 42-30 in Evanston, Ill., against the Wildcats. Northwestern has not won in Columbus since the 1977 season, a string of 24-consecutive defeats at Ohio State.
* Radinovic is No. 1 in the Big Ten in field goal shooting percentage, knocking down 64.4 percent of his shots (67-104). He has made 56 percent of his shots for his career (223-401) in 101 games. Radinovic took the lead after connecting on 4-of-5 shots at Purdue last week.
* Stockman leads Ohio State with an average of 12.6 points a game. He has connected on 85 percent of his foul shots (34-40). With a total of 37 steals, Stockman is among Big Ten leaders (5th) with an average of 2.00 thefts a game. Sullinger averages 10.6 points a game, second on the team. Dials leads the Buckeyes against conference foes with 11.3 points per game. He has made 56 percent of his shots (29-52) and 72 percent of his free throw attempts (21-29) in league play. Radinovic averages 10.1 points per game against Big Ten competition and is the leading rebounder with 5.7 a contest. The Buckeyes outrebound Big Ten opponents 36.4-30.7 per game.
* Carmody left Princeton four years ago to take over the Wildcat program. His record in Evanston is 47-59 and his overall record as a head coach is 139-84.
* Click the link below for a look at the TV clearances and early line for OSU-Northwestern.