Ohio State kept rolling on Wednesday night with an impressive victory at Northwestern by the score of 71-65. The win improved the Buckeyes to 7-0 in league play — remaining tied with Purdue at the top of the Big Ten — and dropped Northwestern to 2-5.
Northwestern led throughout most of the first half, however, a 17-2 run by the Buckeyes later in the frame helped build an eight-point lead for Ohio State at halftime. The Buckeyes led throughout the entire second half, however they had to fight off a late surge by the Wildcats to close out this impressive road victory.
Surprisingly, reserve center Micah Potter led the way for Ohio State with 13 points. C.J. Jackson also had a big night, dropping 12 points and producing eight assists. Vic Law led the Wildcats in scoring with 14 points.
This was an important win for the Buckeyes and a really disappointing loss for Northwestern. Let’s take a look at what we learned in this game.
What We Learned
1. Ohio State isn’t going anywhere.
If you haven’t bought into the Buckeyes yet, it’s time to start buying because it looks like Ohio State is going to be in this Big Ten title race til the end.
Ohio State found a new way to win on Wednesday. They didn’t rely heavily on their star, and they still were able to pull out a close road game. Keita Bates-Diop for once was human — more on this later — and the Buckeyes were still able to pull ahead in the second half and hold on down the stretch. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but they won. That’s what you need to do in the Big Ten at times, especially on the road.
Do I think Ohio State is the better than Purdue? No, I don’t. But I also didn’t think they’d win tonight. This seemed like a perfect trap game for the Buckeyes, yet they didn’t slip up, and because of that it’s time to truly respect them as a title contender. You don’t win your first seven Big Ten games on pure luck, especially when four of them are on the road.
2. Northwestern’s season may be over.
Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament dreams may have just died on Wednesday night in this disappointing defeat against the Buckeyes. It wasn’t disappointing because of the opponent, but because it was yet another missed opportunity for the Wildcats.
Wildcats leading scorer Bryant McIntosh just wasn’t there tonight, struggling to make an impact in this game. He was held scoreless in the first half, and while he was able to put forth a solid effort in the second half to finish with 10 points, it just wasn’t enough for Northwestern. And this was a game the Wildcats really had to have.
Northwestern was expected to make it to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year. However, they have missed out on a number of big-win opportunities and Wednesday was another missed opportunity. There is talent on this team, but right now they aren’t making enough winning plays to get it done. Wednesday was another example of that, and it may just be time to hang up those dancing shoes.
3. Buckeyes can win without Bates-Diop dominating.
Bates-Diop — who is currently the hands down Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner — had an off night, but it didn’t matter because Ohio State was able to put together a complete team effort to pull out the road victory.
It was a total team effort for Ohio State tonight, with seven different players scoring six or more points. The bench contributed for 22 points, and a pair of three-point makes from key reserve Andrew Dakich helped the Buckeyes take command of this game. Potter’s 13 points on a perfect 5-for-5 night was incredible and truly showcased how deep these Buckeyes are.
Bates-Diop, Jackson and Tate are the stars on this team — and all three contributed tonight — but it was a total team effort that helped lead Ohio State to this road win. As I said above, it wasn’t the prettiest game but it’s a game that should make Buckeye fans even happier. They won without needing a dominant game from Bates-Diop or an incredible deep shooting performance. Finding new ways to win is even more exciting than your star going off — and that’s exactly what we saw tonight.
Ohio State is heading towards a possible Big Ten championship, while Northwestern is looking poised for a NIT bid. At the beginning of the year, we probably expected it to be a flip flop for these two teams.
Ohio State has proven they can win away from home. Sure, the four teams they’ve beaten aren’t great — they have a combined Big Ten record of 7-20 — but it’s not easy winning on the road in league play. So, even if Ohio State were to lose the rest of their road league games and win out at home, they’ll finish 13-5. That won’t win the league, but that’ll get them dancing, which no one expected at the beginning of the year. And for the record, I don’t predict them losing out on the road.
As for Northwestern, this was a tough one to swallow. It wasn’t a bad loss in regards to losing to a bad opponent, but it was simply a missed opportunity. Where the Wildcats are sitting, they couldn’t afford anymore missed opportunities. The Wildcats’ chances of making it back to the NCAA Tournament are on life support. They need to start ripping off some wins, otherwise they are destined for the NIT at best.