Another night, another collapse.
Northwestern dropped its seventh match in a row, losing 63-49 to Ohio State in Columbus following another poor shooting performance. Despite holding the Buckeyes to just 25 points at halftime, the ‘Cats couldn’t prevent a late-game surge that eventually gave OSU an insurmountable lead. Once again, Chris Collins will be left wondering how to buy a bucket from his beleaguered roster.
Save for the most extreme defensive fanatics, the first half was difficult to watch. There were often minutes in between field goals, and at the under-four in the half, there were more total turnovers than field goals. OSU inched out to a 7-5 lead, where the score stood with 11 minutes remaining in the half. Unsuccessful in the paint, both teams starting hurling up a barrage of three-pointers. The Buckeyes’ Duane Washington Jr. (12 PTS, 5 REB) nailed one shortly after a timeout, and it was five missed shots later before Aaron Falzon (5 PTS) responded off an assist from Barret Benson (5 REB). Several minutes later, the Wildcats went on a 6-0 run - highlighted by an Anthony Gaines (7 PTS) three-pointer - to knot the score at 14-14. Gaines has been one of the few bright spots of Chris Collins’ squad this year, and will be relied upon if Northwestern is to steal any more Big Ten wins this season.
The Buckeyes followed with a 5-0 run of their own to obtain a 19-14 lead. The teams traded buckets and free throws to head into the locker rooms with a 24-20 OSU advantage. The 20-point output is the lowest for a first half in Northwestern’s dismal season, yet they found themselves right in the game due to similarly poor play from Ohio State. Overall, Northwestern shot 29 percent from the floor in the half, and both teams shot below 20 percent from beyond the arc. A positive for the Wildcats: they out-rebounded the Buckeyes by a margin of four.
Both teams started the second half with a bit more of a shooting pulse than they showed through the first twenty minutes. Ohio State started off 4-5 despite a lack of strong guard play; Kaleb Wesson (22 PTS, 8 REB) mixed some interior post moves against an undersized combo in Benson and Dererk Pardon (8 PTS, 9 REB) with nifty backdoor passes to spring other Buckeyes. Northwestern, though, kept the game tight with some timely threes. The ‘Cats cut the lead to three off a AJ Turner (9 PTS) triple, but the Buckeyes utilized Wesson to leave the Wildcat defense scrambling. Whenever Northwestern doubled up Wesson, the Buckeyes found an open man in the paint, contributing to 28 of Ohio State’s 42 points by the 12 minute mark.
The Buckeyes began to blow the game open at the 10 minute mark as Northwestern missed shot after shot while OSU took advantage of mismatches in the paint to advance their lead. The Buckeyes were clinging to a 42-38 lead before Wesson began to dominate, hitting an open 3 before easily overpowers Benson to give OSU a 12 point lead at 50-38, forcing Collins to call a timeout.
Wesson's play began a 19-4 run by the Buckeyes, who up until the six minute mark had 11 assists with zero turnovers. Ohio State attacked the paint with aggression, bullying Northwestern’s interior defenders to the tune of 40 points in the paint despite a horrid 19 three point percentage.
Collins was unable to respond to the size deficit, but his coaching was exacerbated by Northwestern’s offense slowing down, once again, at the wrong time. Northwestern shot below 35 percent for the third straight game with a dismal 31.6% mark, including going 5-29 from three. Ohio State outmuscled Northwestern by exploiting mismatches, taking advantage of double teams, and knocking down key shots when they needed to; Northwestern, meanwhile, seemed to not hit anything down the stretch. Even though the team lacks a primary point guard, it’s disheartening to see the squad fail to improve offensively over the course of the season.
Northwestern next takes the court against Wisconsin this Saturday at Welsh-Ryan at 7:30 p.m.