Men’s Basketball: Northwestern overcomes Ohio State’s efficient shooting, guts it out 69-63


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

Senior guard Boo Buie tries to out-physical his defender into the lane. Buie and Brooks Barnhizer led the team in scoring with 19 points in their win against Ohio State, 69-63.

Lawrence Price, Senior Staffer

Northwestern’s Jan. 1 contest wasn’t how it wanted to ring in the new year.

On their home turf and second conference matchup of the season, the Wildcats (17-7, 8-5 Big Ten) were handed a 16-point loss from Ohio State. This wasn’t a shock to many, though, as Sports Illustrated ranked the Buckeyes the fifth-best team in the conference during their preseason rankings, whereas the Cats stood at second-to-last in the “better luck next year” category. 

Yet, since their meeting, Ohio State has been everything but spot on, losing nine of its last 10 contests — while NU has won four of its last six — and making a statement in the Big Ten conference. Clearly, those predictions have gone down the drain.

Now, meeting again in Columbus a month and eight days later, NU continued its step-in-stride, overcoming the Buckeyes’ (11-13, 3-10 Big Ten) better-than-imagined offensive effort, winning 69-63. The Wildcats earned its first win at Ohio State since 2017 and third since 1977. 

Although both teams’ tales have diverged in opposite directions this season, the agendas, scripts and projections were thrown out the window from the get-go in Thursday’s matchup. The Buckeyes made their presence felt in the paint to start the contest. Whether it be the back-to-back layups by guard Isaac Likekele or forward Zed Key for Ohio State’s first points — or even Key’s right-handed throwdown over NU junior center Matthew Nicholson that led to a crowd eruption and head taps — the Buckeyes weren’t playing games. 

And this was Ohio State’s point of attack from the jump: to dominate the paint on both ends. The Buckeyes scored 18 of their 27 points down there and crashed the boards to grab seven more rebounds than NU in the first 20 minutes. These statistics may seem peachy-keen, but considering their options after knocking down zero of nine attempts from behind the arc, this was their only route to take. 

The Cats’ perimeter defense and quick close-out ability were a huge part of this effort, especially in locking down the Buckeyes’ freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh. Averaging 17 points per game prior to Thursday, he racked up only four points by this game’s end.

NU was able to limit Ohio State’s offensive efficiency during the first half, forcing it into bad contested shots that put the Buckeyes’ attack into timeout for nearly five minutes.

Yet, when this happened, the Cats reverted back to the problems they faced offensively against Wisconsin on Sunday, simultaneously slowing down the other team’s offense. During Ohio State’s drought, NU started its own and upped the price, not scoring for more than five and a half minutes.

When the Cats couldn’t find the back of the basket, the Buckeyes began to gain traction, going on an 8-0 run and extending their lead to six.

Luckily for the purple and white, freshman forward Nick Martinelli carried NU out of its offensive rut and took the team to the locker room on a high note. After getting his post hook on the left low block to go, which knocked the Buckeyes’ lead back down to four, Martinelli put his defender into the spin cycle with just seconds remaining in the half and finished with a left-handed off the glass at the buzzer — giving the Cats a 28-27 lead.

NU’s second-half defense continued to press the envelope on the perimeter, resulting in Ohio State’s one-made three the entire contest. Similar to the first half, the Buckeyes didn’t have many problems at the rim, shooting 54.2% inside the arc in the first 20 minutes, and 45.8% in the second — a large reason why the game stayed close.

However, as the game progressed, the Cats’ offense and defense became more consistent. Forcing Ohio State to go silent during the back half of the contest, making one of seven shots till the final buzzer, NU shined in the clutch. With fewer than five minutes to go and the shot clock at three seconds, redshirt senior guard Chase Audige kicked it to sophomore guard Brooks Barnhizer at the right wing for a catch-and-shoot three that was on the money, raising the Cats’ lead to nine.

Barnhizer finished with 19 points, a career-high that put him on par with senior guard Boo Buie’s score that game.

From there, the Buckeyes were able to cut down the Cats’ lead to four, but Audige’s daggering corner three sent it back up to seven. Buie’s bounce pass to Nicholson on the baseline — with less than a minute remaining — put the nail in the coffin. As the clocks hit double zero, NU moved into second place tie in the Big Ten and secured coach Chris Collins’ 150th win in program history.

With major cogs like No. 1 Purdue, No. 18 Indiana and Iowa next up on the slate, the Cats’ awakening offensive ability and strong defense  was much needed. Collins noted previously that “nobody is going to go undefeated in the Big Ten,” and with some heavy hitters left on the conference schedule, no win will be easy to come by. But NU’s performance against Ohio State was a positive light before the madness that’s to come.

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