Call me a broken record but it was a must-win (or if you prefer, can’t lose) game for both Northwestern and Ohio State Sunday afternoon in Columbus. For Ohio State, after starting off 2-4, a conference game at home against a decent opponent presented an opportunity to stay on track and win their 3rd straight. Meanwhile for the Wildcats, they weren’t just up against another B1G road test; they were up against a rough history in Columbus and against OSU coach Thad Matta.
It probably was well before your time, but if you want to guess the last time NU won in OSU before Sunday, here are a few hints:
• NU’s coach was Tex Winter, OSU’s was Eldon Miller
• The #1 album was “Saturday Night Fever”
• The #1 song was “Hotel California” (timeless enough to be #1 in my book during any year)
• #1 movie: Star Wars
• Gas was $.65
• NCAA champions: The Marquette Golden Eagles
If you haven’t already seen our game tweets, the year was 1977 when NU had last won in Columbus. Looking to update the history books, here’s how NU lined up:
• McIntosh, Lindsey, Lumpkin, Law, Pardon (the usual 5)
With Keita Bates-Diop out for the year with a stress fracture, OSU’s new lineup looked like this:
• Lyle, Williams, Thompson, Tate, Loving
After going up by 7 points before the 10-minute mark in the 1st half, Northwestern started to chip away at the Ohio State lead, and frankly, showed why they’re in the top half of the B1G. Continuing to stay hot and holding their ground on defense, Northwestern managed to go up by four with 5 minutes left in the half. Things would stay there as Northwestern would lead by 5 going into the half.
In the 2nd half, déjà vu appeared to be uncomfortably imminent as OSU immediately drew even with NU. For those familiar with the history between these two teams, not only have the Buckeyes come out ahead in just about every matchup, but they have done so in heart-breaking manner in must-win games for the Wildcats. Being a game that may very well have tournament implications down the road, it almost felt like destiny that OSU would play spoilers to NU’s good start.
Even after distancing themselves by 5 points again with 14 minutes to play, OSU continued to fight back and took a 3-point lead with under 7 minutes to play. After going ahead by a point with just over 5 minutes left, Northwestern managed to stay up. Perhaps the biggest key was making their free throws in the final few minutes. Despite being in the double bonus for almost 15 minutes of the 2nd half, OSU could not get to the line enough to make a difference. NU would close out the game, despite having trouble closing out the game. A few game notes
• NU shot just 37.5% from the field while OSU was about 45.5% (NU had just two less field goals though, thanks to more shot attempts)
• The teams were practically even in both rebounds and assists. OSU, however, had 5 more TO’s and fewer offensive rebounds
• The ultimate decider? Probably FT’s. NU was19-24 from the line (79.2%) while OSU was just 12-23(52.2%)
• Scottie Lindsey was again phenomenal, scoring 21 points going 7-14 from the field.
• For OSU, there was more balance but Jae’Sean Tate probably and Trevor Thompson stands out as the top performer. Tate wasg 6-12 from the field with 14 points and 6 rebounds, Thompson scored 11 but impressed with 15 boards.
Now at 5-2 in conference play, Northwestern hosts Nebraska Thursday night, looking to get a 6-2 cushion before a tough stretch of games.
Trying to salvage an imminent NIT finish, OSU will have a chance to turn things around as they host Maryland Wednesday night.
A final note on both teams: For Ohio State, Thad Matta has to be feeling some long-term pressure, as his program has failed to exceed expectations for a few consecutive years now. With Bates-Diop out for the season, the roster doesn’t feature many new cast members from last season who can shake things up. The Buckeyes will need a phenomenal performance from here on out to salvage their season.
For Northwestern: The victory over OSU was certainly one of the biggest in Chris Collins’ time. Avoiding being 4-3 in conference play with a tough stretch near, beating OSU in Columbus felt like a big milestone. NU showed how tough they really are, a critical trait when playing many similarly skilled teams.