Men’s Basketball: Cats edge No. 23 Ohio State, improve to 3-0 in Big Ten for first time since 1968


Josh Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Freshman guard Ty Berry celebrates after the Cats pull out a 71-70 victory over No. 23 Ohio State.

John Riker, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

With the score even and just over a minute left in the contest against No. 23 Ohio State, sophomore guard Boo Buie spotted up from a couple feet behind the three-point line and took a jab step at his defender, CJ Walker.

Ever so slightly, Walker bit on the fake. Buie fired without hesitation. The shot swished, giving the Wildcats a lead they wouldn’t surrender. Thanks to a stifling defense and Buie’s late-game heroics, NU (6-1, 3-0 in Big Ten) held on for a come-from-behind 71-70 win over the visiting Buckeyes (7-2, 1-2) and improved to 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 1967-68 season.

“They believe that they are supposed to win,” coach Chris Collins said of his team. “Even when we were down with four minutes to go, they were talking about winning (and) getting stops.”

Ohio State raced out of the gates, hitting their first four shots to take an 8-0 lead on the Cats. Junior forward Miller Kopp answered the Buckeye start with a run of his own. Kopp tallied 12 of the Cats’ first 14 points, flipping the early deficit into a 14-10 NU lead.

“I come in every game the same, I look to be aggressive and to shoot the ball if I’m open and to attack,” Kopp, who finished the night with 23 points, said. “A couple shots went down, and I looked up and we were in the game. That’s all that mattered to me.”

Neither team could maintain control for the remainder of the first half — the sides combined for 12 lead changes and entered the break tied at 34. Despite shooting an inefficient 43.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free throw line, the Cats’ offense took advantage of Ohio State’s erratic play with 16 points off turnovers, nearly half of NU’s point total.

The Buckeyes started off the second half similarly to the first, riding an 8-0 run into a 42-36 lead. Still, with instant offense from Kopp and sophomore guard Boo Buie, the Cats wouldn’t let Ohio State pull away and tied the score with 12:30 left in regulation.

The momentum turned back to the Buckeyes’ favor as Ohio State took a 64-57 lead with just under seven minutes to go. Then, the NU defense took over.

“Down the stretch, if you don’t get stops, you don’t win,” Kopp said. “You’ve got to keep yourself in the position to make a shot and have a great offensive possession, but you don’t get there unless you get stops.”

Over those final seven minutes, the Buckeyes scored just six points, and while the Cats initially struggled to take advantage on the offensive end, dunks by sophomore center Ryan Young, sophomore guard Chase Audige and junior forward Pete Nance made it a one-possession game with four minutes left.

After forward E.J. Liddell hit a jumper to boost the Ohio State lead to five points, Kopp answered with four consecutive points to pull within one. Audige finished the job on the next possession with the go-ahead three.

Ohio State tied the score, and then Buie sized up and sank a long three to regain the lead.

“I felt like I was in rhythm,” Buie said. “I made a move, a jab step, and I pulled up. Fortunately, it went in.”

The Buckeyes pulled within a point and took possession down 71-70 with 12 seconds left, but Buie corralled the rebound after a missed layup by guard Duane Washington Jr. to seal the win for the Cats.

One year ago, NU finished 3-17 and in 13th place in the Big Ten. After Saturday’s win, the Cats have met that win total in December.

“We made the decision last year to go young and develop this core,” Collins said. “We are stronger, we are better, we are more confident and these guys have more belief than they had in themselves last year.”

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