Late Push Helps Buckeyes Avoid Historic Upset Against Northwestern
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was the 100th anniversary of Woody Hayes’ birth, Braxton Miller was in the building and there was something just not right about the Buckeyes on Thursday evening.
Coming off consecutive losses to a pair of top-five teams in Michigan and Indiana, Ohio State played lackluster basketball at both ends of the floor for the first 30 minutes against Northwestern.
Then they turned it on when it mattered most.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Held in check for most the day, Deshaun Thomas scored 15 of his game-high 22 points over the final 10 minutes as Ohio State (18-6, 8-4 Big Ten) pulled away for a 69-59 win over the visiting Wildcats (13-12, 4-8).
“Thomas really took over at the end of the game,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said.
“In the last 10 minutes, we couldn’t keep the ball away from him. He made plays that good players make.”
Carmody was playing with only seven scholarship players because of the injuries to seniors Drew Crawford (shoulder surgery) and Jared Swopshire (knee surgery). He implemented a 2-3 zone in practice instead of Northwestern’s traditional 1-3-1 zone and it caused problems for Ohio State early in the game.
“We went to a 2-3 zone which we haven’t played in a few years but I thought that was the best thing we could do to stay out of foul trouble,” Carmody said.
“It was effective for most of the game.”
The Buckeyes shot 42 percent from the floor in the first half, but they were just 5-for-17 from behind the arc on Thursday night. Thomas missed all five of his looks from longrange, and he converted only two of his first 11 shots from the floor.
Photo by Jim Davidson
After trailing for much of the first half, the Buckeyes took a 28-27 lead on three from Lenzelle Smith Jr. with just over two minutes to play in the half. Center Amir Williams added an emphatic dunk in traffic to push Ohio State's lead to three, at 30-27, but the Buckeyes failed to defend Tre Demps out near half-court on the final possession of the first half.
Demps’ desperation heave bounced off back iron high into the air and dropped straight through the cylinder, sending both teams to the locker rooms tied at 30 after the first 20 minutes of play.
“I give a lot of credit to Northwestern,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said.
“They made shots that were difficult and in the first half we weren't challenging baskets, which we paid for.”
It has been more than three decades since the Wildcats were victorious in Columbus, but they played well enough for 30 minutes to keep everyone at Value City Arena in a state of constant anxiety.
Every time the Buckeyes made a run, Northwestern would come down and hit a big three at the other end. They hit six of them in the first half and five more in the second half, finishing 11 of 26 from behind the arc. They misfired on their last four, however, over the final 1:35 of the game as Ohio State used a 12-0 run to close the door on an upset.
“Our defense at the end was key,” Matta added.
“We challenged shots a little better and the game came down to us contesting shots. At the end of the game we had one of our best defensive lineups.”
Matta took Williams off the floor and went with Thomas at the five and Sam Thompson at the four in an attempt to take away some of Northwestern’s high ball-screen action. It worked, and in had an unintended effect, it also freed up Thomas to get better looks at the offensive end of the floor.
“I had to post-up instead of being in the mid-post on the side,” said Thomas, who leads the Big Ten in scoring at over 20 points a game this season.
“I played the five which I haven’t done since high school. Shannon (Scott) and Craft found me and I got some easy buckets.”
Somewhat easy. Easier than they were in the first half when Northwestern was shading its zone defense to take away Ohio State’s best, and sometimes only, scoring option.
“We were trying to make it hard for Thomas,” Carmody said, “and if the other guys beat you they beat you.”
Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored all 12 of his points in the first half for Ohio State, while center Amir Williams added a career-high 10 points and eight rebounds. Thompson finished with 11 points, and Craft tallied seven points, six assists, three steals and three rebounds.
Craft also scored on a tricky layup late in the game where he switched hands in mid air to give Ohio State a 61-57 lead with 1:50 to play.
Thomas connected on two free throws, and Thompson threw down back-to-back dunks following missed 3-pointers by Northwestern in the final 48 seconds of the game.
“We played well for 39 minutes,” Carmody said.
“We had some good looks in those last 90 seconds. We just weren’t able to knock them down.”
Demps finished with a team-high 16 points for Northwestern, while Kale Abrahamson finished with 13 points. They were two of four players in double-figures for the Wildcats, who fell to 0-10 all-time at Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes have now won 18 of the last 19 meetings, including seven in a row. They have not lost to Northwestern on their home floor in the last 29 meetings in Columbus. They are off to Madison on Sunday for a 1 p.m. matchup with Wisconsin on CBS.
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