What you take away from Wednesday night’s game is all about your perspective. Given the recent struggles, my guess is that Ohio State’s 75-73 victory over Northwestern fit the frustrating mold over anything else.
Playing against a Wildcat team that they beat by over 30 earlier in the season, the Buckeyes jumped off to a quick 11-2 start. It looked as if the Bucks were going to have their way with Northwestern yet again with a mid-week business trip to Chicago, but then everything went into idle. The lead hovered between eight and 12 for most of the game, until the Wildcats finally made their inevitable run at the end.
With the game tied and 7 seconds remaining (thanks to a remote-throw inducing turnover by Deshaun Thomas), Jared Sullinger took a beautiful feed from Aaron Craft and banked home the game winning shot. John Shurna’s desperation heave, which hung in the air for approximately eight and a half minutes, fell just short, and the Buckeyes (as well as Gus Johnson’s voice) survived.
While it would have been better for my heart and hairline if Ohio State cruised to an easy victory, seeing Sully answer the call like that was crucial. Due to the big man’s recent struggles, for once it wasn’t William Buford’s mindset that everyone was worried about before the game. Sullinger even recently admitted that he has been more concerned with the officiating than his own game. The irritation with the refs was still there (he was lucky to not get a late technical when he inexplicably threw the ball up in the air after a call), but the sophomore led the team with 22 points and 18 rebounds. In fact, he grabbed more rebounds than the entire Wildcat team.
The overall glass half-full takeaways from this victory (outside of Sullinger’s dominance) include a balanced scoring attack (every starter except for the consistently inconsistent William Buford had double figures), great shooting from Craft, and the mere fact that the team picked up the win in a tough place to do so. Michigan needed overtime twice to beat the Wildcats, Purdue only won by two, and conference-leading Michigan State fell victim to the purple clad crowd. Even last year’s much better version of the Bucks escaped Evanston by a measly point.
The glass half-empty mindset would point out that Ohio State out-rebounded Northwestern 42 to 16 (including an 18-4 advantage on the offensive glass) and still only managed a heart pounding two point win. 42 to 16! Turnovers and poor three-point shooting continue to haunt this squad and will likely be its undoing come March. It would also be nice if freshman Shannon Scott could stay on the floor for more than two minutes at a time without finding himself in foul trouble, so we can finally see if the Craft and Scott combination actually works.
Alas, a win is a win, and thanks to Indiana’s upset over Sparty Tuesday, a co-conference championship will be on the line Sunday at East Lansing. The rebounding advantage won’t be there (after all, Michigan State actually ventures into the paint once or twice a game), so Sullinger will need to come through again, and the outside shots will have to fall. If they don’t, it could be another long game.