The Wildcats are legit, folks. In what was a dogfight from start to finish, Northwestern (6-1, 3-0 B1G) outlasted No. 23 Ohio State (7-2, 1-2 B1G) 71-70 to start 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time in 53 years.
After a back-and-forth first half in which NU took advantage of Buckeye miscues, OSU outmuscled the Wildcats for a majority of the latter 20 minutes before NU went on a 10-4 run over the final 3:14 to earn a come from behind victory.
Junior forward Miller Kopp led NU with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, while sophomore guard Boo Buie added 14 more, hitting 6 of 11 attempts from the field.
Northwestern began the game slow, missing its first six shots from the field as Ohio State jumped out to an 8-0 advantage. Kopp eventually broke the seal with a three-pointer to get NU going.
That make sparked the Wildcats, who, fueled by Kopp, went on an 11-0 run to take a 14-10 lead with 13 minutes left in the first half. The junior scored 12 of Northwestern’s first 14 points.
Every possession was a grind. No other Wildcat scored more than six points in an opening 20 minutes that featured 12 lead changes and no advantage larger than four points after the Buckeyes’ initial spurt.
Harvard grad transfer Seth Towns kept Chris Holtmann’s team in it early, shooting a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and canning all three of his attempts from downtown for 11 points.
Notably, Northwestern took advantage of eight Ohio State turnovers, scoring 16 points off turnovers to none for OSU. Robbie Beran, after rolling his ankle Wednesday against Indiana, contributed both offensively and defensively, adding two rebounds and two assists and was a +14 in 10 first-half minutes.
OSU took a two-point lead with 3.9 seconds left after Musa Jallow drained a short jumper and Anthony Gaines fouled him. On the ensuing possession, though, redshirt senior CJ Walker inexplicably fouled Pete Nance at mid court with 0.4 seconds on the clock. Nance made two free throws to send the game to the half tied at 34. Kopp lead all scorers with 14, and Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell added 11 for the Buckeyes.
Northwestern started the second half poorly as well. The ‘Cats committed five fouls in as many minutes, and some poor shot selection slowed them on offense. They started just 3-for-9 from the field as OSU continued to out rebound them, earning second chance opportunities and forcing NU to commit seven fouls. The Bucks entered the bonus with 11:37 left.
Kopp left the game to get a finger taped with 12:59 left in the half after committing a foul. He returned with 8:39 left.
Buie began to find his shot, starting the half 3-for-4 from the field and draining a long three to tie the game at 48. NU continued to have trouble with gaps down low, and a Zed Key layup gave the Buckeyes a two-point lead at the under-12 media timeout.
Three free throws from true freshman guard Ty Berry brought the ‘Cats within one, but a quick bucket from Liddell and a live ball turnover from Ryan Young led to a Walker layup to extend the Buckeye lead to 53-48 with 9:30 to go. OSU continued to feast down low, scoring 22 points in the paint in the second half alone.
After not being able to get shots to fall, the ‘Cats scored dunks from Young and Chase Audige off of turnovers to trim the deficit to three with 3:49 left. A Kopp floater cut things to one before Audige hit a three with 1:48 left to give the ‘Cats a 68-66 lead, their first of the second half.
OSU’s Kyle Young hit a long jumper to tie the game at 68, but Buie then came down and canned another triple to swing the seesaw back toward NU. Two more foul shots from Young trimmed the Wildcats’ lead to 71-70, and Kopp came up short on a jumper.
Ohio State ran a good play out of its ensuing timeout, but Duane Washington, Jr. missed a layup and Anthony Gaines helped strip Liddell of another offensive rebound, forcing him to foul Buie. Liddell’s half court heave fell well short after Buie missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the ‘Cats remained undefeated in conference play, finalizing a massive close-game win.
Northwestern returns to action Tuesday night in Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes, who dropped an overtime loss to Minnesota on Friday.