OSU Pulls It Together, Holds Off Northwestern

No. 12 Ohio State missed its first 12 shots from the floor Saturday against Northwestern. But the Buckeyes rallied for a 61-52 win over the Wildcats. J.J. Sullinger led four OSU players in double figures with 16 points and seven rebounds. Ron Lewis added 15 points and nine rebounds. Terence Dials had 14 points and 15 rebounds. Jamar Butler added 12 points. Click here for more.

The enterprising journalist was searching for a lead paragraph to describe it.

He pondered: Never have so many assembled in one place to see so little.

Then he considered: Had James Naismith knew this would be the result of his invention, he would have gone fishing instead.

He even went so far as to say: In a game that set basketball back 20 or 30 years …

But he settled on the old tried and true: It was ugly, but it was a win.

All of those leads applied to Saturday's Big Ten men's basketball game between Ohio State and Northwestern.

No. 12 Ohio State kept its hopes of a conference championship alive by grinding out a rough 61-52 win over visiting Northwestern before a sedate sellout crowd of 18,500 at Value City Arena.

The Buckeyes (19-4, 8-4) missed their first 12 shots from the floor and survived making just 3 of their 23 three-point attempts. Defense saved the Buckeyes as OSU held Northwestern (12-12, 4-8) to just five points during a 15-minute span covering the end of the first half and start of the second.

OSU grabbed a 15-point lead midway through the second half before watching the game Wildcats go on a 17-4 run to whittle it down to two with just over six minutes left. But the Buckeyes dug in and did enough down the stretch to pull out the win.

"I think, obviously, this was a hard fought win," said OSU coach Thad Matta. "I told the guys Northwestern had a difficult style. We couldn't but a basket at first. To our credit, we kept defending. We gave up 20 points in the first half. In the second half, we got a lead and held on.

"This shows that you have to keep your toughness for 40 minutes. You can't let up."

J.J. Sullinger led Ohio State with 16 points and seven rebounds. He never left the floor for the Buckeyes.

"We're sitting up here answering questions like we lost," Sullinger said afterwards. "We won the game. We have to give Northwestern credit. They play different than most teams. We don't need a jolt. This was the jolt we need. We were coming off a loss, but we got a hard win."

Ron Lewis, starting in place of an ailing Matt Sylvester, had 15 points and nine rebounds in also playing 40 minutes. Terence Dials had another double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds. Jamar Butler added 12 points.

Sylvester missed the game with a sore back. Accordingly, OSU played only seven players with the five starters – Sullinger, Lewis, Dials, Butler and Je'Kel Foster, who finished with two points – all playing 35 or more minutes.

"Matt was great yesterday," Matta said. "He walked in today and I said, ‘Wooo, that doesn't look good.' His back tightened up on him. We thought we could get it loosened up, but he was not able to go. That was a tough blow for us, particularly at the juncture we found out."

For the game, OSU shot 37 percent from the floor (20 of 54) and was a season-low 13 percent on three-point attempts.

"We had good shots, shots we have made before," Matta said. "You just have to continue to shoot and keep your confidence level up."

OSU shot 30 free throws to Northwestern's two, but NU coach Bill Carmody did not blame the officials.

"We were fouling them," said Carmody, whose team committed 19 fouls to OSU's 10. "It was a pretty well reffed game, I thought."

Mohamed Hachad led Northwestern with 19 points and nine rebounds. He scored 15 straight points for the Wildcats as they mounted their second-half charge.

NU's Vedran Vukusic, the Big Ten's leading scorer at 20.2 points per game, played through his own back problems. He finished with 17 points and six rebounds, although he was just 1 of 7 on three-point attempts.

"He wasn't cutting that well," Carmody said. "He played a lot of minutes after not touching a ball in a week. He gave a very good effort."

Carmody switched defenses throughout, but NU's 1-3-1 zone seemed to confound the Buckeyes.

"We wanted to get out on their shooters," he said. "I don't know if we did, but they were missing them. They didn't play great and we didn't play great. But we were still hanging around under two minutes to go."

Matta added, "They funnel you into their big guy. They play the passing lanes. It's like the defense we used to face when (West Virginia coach) John Beilein was at Richmond. They do a good job of looking where the passing lanes are."

The first 20 minutes were, in a word, dreadful.

The teams were a combined 16 of 54 (29.6 percent) from the floor. Ohio State somehow held a 21-20 halftime lead after making just 7 of 24 shots (29.2 percent) from the floor, including 1 of 10 from behind the arc.

Lewis kept OSU in the game by scoring 11 of his points in the first half. The OSU defense was strong as the Buckeyes held NU to one field goal in the final 9:12 of the half.

"Ron carried us through that stretch where we couldn't get a basket," Matta said. "He got inside their defense and he ended up igniting us with some baskets. He's got that first step and that ability to get inside."

Northwestern scored the game's first nine points, capped by a three-pointer by Craig Moore with 15:20 left in the half.

OSU finally tallied when Lewis made 1 of 2 free throws with 14:10 left. But NU answered with four more points, going up 13-1 on Vukusic's driving layup with 12:27 left in the half.

Lewis finally made OSU's first shot – after 12 misses, seven of them on threes – with a driving bank shot to beat the zone with 11:59 left. NU still led 17-7 after Mohamad Haschad tallied a layup with 9:12 left.

The Buckeyes then held NU without a field goal for just under six minutes, scoring 10 straight in the meantime to tie the game. That run included a driving bank shot by Sullinger, a layup by Lewis off an outlet by Dials, two free throws by Lewis and Sullinger's three from the left corner that tied it at 17-17 with 3:40 left in the half.

NU's Moore drained a three for a 20-17 lead with 3:16 left. But Ohio State scored the final four points of the half. Sullinger and Butler each made a free throw and Lewis drove around Vukusic for a layup and a 21-20 lead with 1:06 left in the half.

Ohio State came out strong to start the second half as Butler and Lewis nailed three-pointers. The Buckeyes then converted a pair of NU turnovers into points. NU's Moore slipped and lost the ball to Butler, who fed Foster for a layup. Then, seconds later, Foster saved a batted ball to Sullinger, whose two-hand jam gave the Buckeyes a 32-22 lead with 16:38 left.

Dials tallied off a rebound basket and Sullinger had a layup as the Buckeyes surged ahead 44-29 with 10:33 to play.

But this is when Hachad and the Wildcats went to work. NU's 17-4 run was fueled by four OSU turnovers. After Vukusic started the run with a layup, Hachad had a layup, a three-point play, a layup, another off an OSU turnover and three more layups as NU cut the lead to 50-48 with 5:30 left in the game.

NU still trailed 52-50 after Bernard Cote scored on a rebound with 3:44 left.

"We got caught on our heels," Matta said. "With (Hachad) out there, he is long and very intelligent. He baits you into thinking something is there and then he takes it away. We were sloppy."

After Butler was whistled for a charge, the Wildcats had a chance to wrest the lead. But Evan Seacat's three-point shot was off the mark.

Ohio State closed the game on a 9-2 run to win going away. Dials started it with a turning shot in the lane with 2:33 left. Then, after Vukusic missed a three for NU, Dials rebounded his own miss and scored with 1:26 left for a 56-50 lead.

Cote missed a shot and Butler rebounded with 1:11 left. Down six, NU did not foul. Butler missed on a drive down the lane, but Dials corralled the rebound and laid it in for a 58-50 lead with 43 seconds left.

Vukusic made a bank shot with 31.4 seconds left. But Lewis made 1 of 2 free throws with 30.5 seconds left and Dials hit a pair with 27 seconds left to cap it.

Also Notable

* Dials notched his third consecutive double-double, fourth of the season and the 14th of his career.

* OSU is now 106-44 all-time against NU, including 63-14 in Columbus and 7-0 at Value City Arena. The Buckeyes have won 26 straight home games over NU and 12 straight overall, dating to a 1998 loss at Evanston.

* Matta's teams are now a combined 37-11 playing as a ranked team, including 12-4 this season.

* Matta's record as a head coach in February is now 33-8.

* The Buckeyes are now 29-3 overall at home under Matta. In his six-year head coaching career, Matta's teams are now 82-9 on their home court.

* OSU is now 105-23 in eight seasons at VCA, including 14-1 this season and 45-17 in Big Ten play.

* The sellout was the third of the year at VCA. OSU is 25-7 overall in sold out VCA games, including 21-5 in Big Ten games that were sold out.

* Ohio State visits No. 16 Michigan State at 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN-Plus). MSU prevailed 62-59 in double overtime on Jan. 15 in Columbus. MSU was 18-7 overall and 6-5 in Big Ten play heading into a game later on Saturday against Michigan.

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