Here are four takeaways from Northwestern’s fourth conference win of the season, a 68-50 victory over Ohio State:
The streak ends, at last
Even though Northwestern led the entire game, Chris Collins noted the uncertainty looming when Ohio State made a late run to cut the lead to 11 with 4:56 to go. Shades of Iowa City, anyone?
Collins called a timeout. “We just got together, and we just said ‘Not tonight.’”
NU closed the game on an 11-4 run to snap its 10-game losing streak.
Vic Law and Dererk Pardon were coy about the significance of the victory (“It feels better than it has. It feels really good,” Law said) but the pair were all smiles as they entered the post-game press conference.
“When you don’t win for a while, you do get a little beaten down ...” Collins said. “When you find a way to put 40 minutes together and you get a win, you feel good. People are smiling. There’s a little bit extra pep in everybody’s step.”
Sure, NU’s victory doesn’t help the Wildcats climb out of the Big Ten cellar. But now, Northwestern can take a least a smidge of momentum into Senior Day and the Big Ten Tournament. The win had a bit of historical significance, too. Before Wednesday, NU had not beaten Ohio State at home since 2009.
An excellent defensive performance
The Wildcats couldn’t buy a basket in the first half when they visited Columbus two weeks ago, shooting 29.2 percent from the field and scoring just 20 points.
Ohio State one-upped Northwestern on Wednesday night. The Buckeyes managed 17 points in the first half on 4-of-28 (14.3 percent) shooting.
Point guard C.J. Jackson didn’t start, and the Buckeyes missed their first 13 shots from the field, including several airballed jumpers. Kaleb Wesson’s absence left a massive hole in OSU’s offensive rhythm as the Buckeyes had to rely on their ball-handlers to create open looks.
“[Wesson] commands double-teams,” Collins said. “So with him not in there, you could play more straight up, and stay on their shooters little bit better.”
Dererk Pardon and Barret Benson played excellent defense inside all night long, allowing NU’s perimeter defenses to play more aggressively near the arc. The Wildcats picked up six steals on the night.
The Buckeyes knocked down more of their open looks in the second half, shooting 36.1 percent from the field, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Northwestern’s defense has become borderline-elite in conference play. The Wildcats can boast a defensive efficiency of 93.5, which ranks 19th in the country and would register as the best rating of the Chris Collins era.
Dererk Pardon wills Northwestern to victory
Northwestern scored 40 points in the second half. Pardon was responsible for nearly half, scoring 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting.
“We just had no answer for him,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said.
Every time Ohio State nipped Northwestern’s heels, Pardon was there to swing the momentum back to the Wildcats. A Kyle Young lay-in cut the NU advantage to seven with 12:41 to go, but there was Pardon, knocking home his fifth three-pointer of the year. When Ohio State trimmed the deficit to five, Pardon made a hook-shot, then slammed home a dunk minutes later as he was fouled. His free throw capped off a 10-0 run and pushed the NU lead to 15.
Chris Collins fed Pardon the ball inside, forcing OSU to allow the big man to take advantage of a mismatch or double and allow NU to ping the ball around the perimeter. The Buckeyes were already missing big man Kaleb Wesson and to make matters worse, forward Kyle Young was playing on one ankle after two separate ankle sprains in practice this week.
Pardon finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season.
A glimpse of the future
Pardon may have willed the Wildcats to victory, but some younger Wildcats made important contributions in the win. Barret Benson, who will presumably take the mantle from Pardon next year, had a tough start to the game with two quick fouls, a lane violation, and a missed dunk.
The blown dunk might have been a sign of better things to come, though.
“I was just happy in the first half that [Benson] went up to dunk the ball with one hand,” Pardon said. “That got me excited.”
Benson followed up the dunk with a nice jump hook in the lane and solid interior defense. He had four points, three rebounds, two blocks, and a steal in nine minutes.
“That was the best stretch [Benson’s] given us in quite some time,” Collins said.
Collins stuck with Miller Kopp and Ryan Greer down the stretch as well. Greer hit an important three from the corner in the second half and looked much more comfortable navigating Ohio State’s soft press.
Kopp had tied a career-high with four assists and finished as a +16 in 26 minutes.
“I’ve noticed a big jump,” Collins said of Kopp. “He’s getting more comfortable and confident which is exciting for the future.”