No. 21 Buckeyes get payback against Wildcats, clutch 81-71 win on Wednesday
Motivated after a one-point loss against the Wildcats on the road earlier in the season, the Buckeyes held on after a late comeback by Northwestern to earn their fourth conference-win of the season.
No. 21 Ohio State (10-3, 4-3) defeated Northwestern (6-5, 3-4) by a score of 81-71 at Value City Arena on Wednesday evening.
"This is the most proud I've been of our team the entire year," head coach Chris Holtmann said. "To respond the way we did, I thought we played pretty well. Not perfect, but it's the most proud I've been of our group."
Northwestern went on an 8-0 run fueled by five points from sophomore guard Boo Buie, including a 3-pointer that forced a timeout with 4:05 to go. It was his first field goal and he shot 1-9, and the Buckeyes needed to answer.
Forward Justin Ahrens responded after the timeout with an important 3-pointer of his own, making it 70-66 with three minutes to go. Northwestern then missed two shots, and redshirt-junior Justice Sueing made a jumper and senior forward Kyle Young hit an and-one to allow some breathing room.
The Buckeyes took advantage of their momentum and forced the Wildcats to score just five points in the final 4:21 of the game.
Junior forward Duane Washington Jr. recorded career-highs in points scored with 23 and assists with six. He also had three rebounds and three 3-pointers.
"For us, everybody on the team has been bought in in practice and working their butt off," Ahrens said. "When we're at our best, I feel like everybody's out there playing confidently."
Sophomore forward E.J. Liddell won the opening tipoff and missed the first shot attempt of the game. Ahrens drained the first points of the game on a 3-pointer during the second possession.
The Wildcats responded on the ensuing possession as redshirt-sophomore guard Chase Audige made an and-one and missed the free throw.
With recent injuries to Jimmy Sotos and C.J. Walker, the Buckeyes were forced to act quickly at point guard. Sueing brought the ball up early as the two teams were separated by one point 4:02 into the game. Following a 6-0 Northwestern run, Sueing hit a 3-pointer to give the Buckeyes a 19-17 lead with 11:33 to go in the opening half.
Audige scored the first 11 points for Northwestern on 5-6 shooting. He continued to run Northwestern’s offense, scoring 15 points in the first eight minutes of the game.
Meechie Johnson Jr. checked in with 8:15 left in the first half as the Buckeyes were up 25-19, marking his second-career game. He didn’t immediately assume point-guard duties as Sueing continued, but Johnson Jr. did score his first points as a member of Ohio State with a 3-pointer.
The reclassified freshman played 11 minutes in the game and scored six points.
"Meechie, he's full of confidence," Sueing said. "We love that about him. He's a young buck on the team, but he's really taking in all the lessons and advice that we've been giving him."
The Buckeyes took advantage of Northwestern’s 1-11 shooting from deep and 39% field goal percentage to hold a halftime lead of 42-33.
Sophomore E.J. Liddell shot 0-5 in the first half and committed two turnovers. He knocked down his first two points on free throw shots in the opening minute of the second half. The second-year forward finished with six points, all coming from the free throws.
A 3-pointer from Ahrens and a Washington Jr. lob to Young slam extended the Buckeyes' lead to 53-40 with just over 15 minutes to go, but Wildcats junior forward Miller Kopp hit back-to-back 3-pointers as Northwestern pulled within five. Ahrens' shot helped push him to 12 points during his 23 minutes of game time.
Northwestern committed just four turnovers all game, and Ohio State didn't capitalize on its first points off a takeaway until Musa Jallow slammed home a breakaway with 10:15 to go, and was fouled in the process.
Overall, the Buckeyes saw four players score double-digit points. They shot 50% from the field.
"As I've said, I really enjoy coaching this group," Holtmann said. "We've got a lot of progress we need to make to play in the best league in the country. That's all our focus is on."
The Buckeyes will travel to Champaign and contest No. 14 Illinois for their first matchup with the Illini at noon on Saturday.