With a new coach in Chris Collins and a new, more aggressive style of play at both ends of the court, it is a new Northwestern basketball program.
“They’re probably the most physical team we’ve played all year,” Ohio State junior Sam Thompson said.
Regardless, it was the same old result in Columbus last night. After falling behind by nine points in the first half, No. 24 Ohio State scored on 19 of its next 22 possessions to build as much as a 21-point lead in the second half and beat the Wildcats 76-60 at Value City Arena.
It was Northwestern’s 33rd consecutive loss at Ohio State, a streak that dates to 1977.
The Buckeyes (21-6, 8-6 Big Ten) won for the fifth time in six games in February after losing five of six in January.
“They got up seven or nine and we kind of just drew the line,” Thompson said. “That’s what we talk about needing to do. We talk about having to have that killer instinct and put teams away, and I think on both sides of the ball we did that.”
LaQuinton Ross led Ohio State with 16 points before he and Nikola Cerina of Northwestern were ejected with 5:24 left after an altercation at the Buckeyes’ end of the court.
Official Ray Perone said after the game that Cerina will be suspended for Northwestern’s next game because he “took a swing at (Ohio State center Amir Williams) with a closed fist or hand” after the two locked up under the basket. The infraction is deemed by rule to be “fighting,” Perone said, and the penalty for a first offense is the player’s suspension for the next game.
Ross will not be suspended for the Buckeyes’ next game, at home Saturday night against Minnesota, because Perone said he was ejected for “two dead-ball contact technical fouls” for shoving Cerina and Drew Crawford of Northwestern after Cerina’s skirmish with Williams.
Three other Ohio State players also scored in double figures. Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft had 14 points apiece and Thompson had 11, his first game in double figures in nine games. Smith also had 10 rebounds and four assists.
“I knew this game was going to come down to toughness,” Smith said. “I’m not accustomed to losing at home, and we’ve let a few slip out of our hands. I just tried to figure out what we needed to do and just hustle, (give) more effort, more energy.
“Whenever I go to get rebounds, I think it helps me as a player overall, on offense and defense. It kind of gets me going, and that’s what I tried to do tonight. Everything else I did was a transition off of my rebounding.”
Crawford scored 22 points to lead Northwestern (12-15, 5-9).
“We got off to a really good start. We had a hot start shooting the ball,” Collins said, “and I think it got into our defense a little bit. I think we thought we could just score, and then what Ohio State did was turn up the heat defensively as the half wore down.”
Ohio State trailed 25-16 with just more than seven minutes left in the first half before scoring on nine straight possessions to lead 37-33 at halftime.
The Buckeyes then scored on 10 of their first 12 possessions of the second half to build a 61-40 lead with 10:46 remaining.