New year, same disappointing Wildcats.
After their best start since the remarkable 2016-17 season, Northwestern (10-3, 1-1 B1G) welcomed Ohio State (10-3, 2-0 B1G) to town with the chance to show that this year’s team has some of the same magic as that tournament-bound Wildcat team from six years ago.
Ohio State controlled this contest wire-to-wire, capturing a resounding 73-57 victory on the road. Northwestern’s shooting woes continued, as the Wildcats only converted 28% of their shots and the game got out of hand early.
Chase Audige finished as the Wildcats’ leading scorer with 16 points on an inefficient 6-of-17 shots. Ty Berry added 11 points and Boo Buie finished with 10. Matthew Nicholson finished with 13 rebounds but zero points and Brooks Barnhizer contributed valuable minutes off the bench.
The Buckeyes finished with four scorers in double figures. Brice Sensabaugh (18 points, eight rebounds) led the way, while Sean McNeil (15 points), Justice Sueing (13 points, six rebounds, five assists), and Zed Key (11 points, 11 rebounds) all contributed to a team effort that thoroughly handled the Wildcats on their home court.
Northwestern couldn’t get anything to fall early on before Boo Buie finally hit a three to tighten the margin at 4-3. Chase Audige struggled, too, missing his first three shots and turning the ball over on an errant play as Ohio State jumped out to an 8-3 lead.
OSU’s quick ball movement proved to be an issue for the Wildcats. The Buckeyes stretched out the Northwestern defense, getting all five players involved and frequently moving the ball to the corner for wide-open three-pointers. The Buckeyes hit shot after shot, easily navigating the usually-stellar Northwestern defense.
With both teams trading empty offensive possessions, Northwestern needed a spark to help close the gap. Unfortunately, the cold shooting continued, as the ‘Cats could not buy a bucket in the paint. Halfway through the first frame, Northwestern’s only six points came from a pair of Buie heaves from downtown.
On the opposing end, Justice Sueing was rolling, making four of his first five shots and grabbing several rebounds to propel the visitors to a commanding early lead.
Down a whopping 22-6, Audige finally found his rhythm, snapping his cold streak with a nifty pivoting jumper at the elbow to cut the Buckeye lead to 14. Sean McNeil responded on the very next possession with a three from way downtown. After a dunk from Eugene Brown III, Chris Collins was forced to call timeout with Ohio State on a 7-0 run and up by 21.
In the minutes before the half, Ty Berry hit a three off an impressive defensive stand and assist from Brooks Barnhizer to make the score 34-13. Audige got a steal on OSU’s ensuing possession, but was not able to convert his free throws.
With only 90 seconds left before the break, Sueing rammed into Berry in the paint, where a technical foul was called on Berry for flopping. Collins was irate on the sideline as the Buckeyes got a free trip to the line.
Fired up after the questionable call, Northwestern played its best basketball in the closing seconds. Two Chase Audige makes and some stout defense allowed the home team to head to halftime trailing 35-17, slimming down a Buckeye lead that had been as many as 26 points. Even with the late push, it was a disastrous first half for the ‘Cats, who shot a mere 21% from the field and looked overmatched from the outset.
With a lot of ground to make up, Northwestern needed a fast start in the second half. After a quick steal, Berry was called for yet another flopping violation, awarding Ohio State another free throw.
Following a gorgeous Brice Sensabaugh bucket, it was Northwestern’s turn to shoot free throws when Matt Nicholson was fouled under the basket. Both free throws were unsuccessful as Northwestern moved to 0-of-6 from the stripe. With a deficit so large, the inability to convert these free points stunted NU’s ability to mount any comeback.
After a rough first fifteen minutes, the conference-best defense finally settled in and put together a string of great defensive possessions against an excellent OSU offense, highlighted by a drawn charge from Audige. The defense was doing its best to keep the ‘Cats in the game, but the second half was more of the same offensively: missed shots, turnovers and poor decisions. Ohio State started the second half on an 11-1 run, effectively icing this one early with a 46-18 lead that was insurmountable for the flailing NU offense.
Out of a much needed break, Northwestern went on a mini run, attempting to salvage the game. The Wildcats forced two turnovers and quickly made a five-point dent on the scoreboard by way of a Buie three and Tydus Verhoeven layup.
The hustle never died for the Wildcats. Nicholson sacrificed his body on a loose ball to dive on the ball and flick it over to Berry, who was able to convert a layup while Sensabaugh fouled him. Barnhizer also made several high-effort plays as the Wildcats refused to roll over. A steal and layup from the sophomore guard made the score 56-32 with eight minutes remaining.
Back-to-back threes from Audige and Julian Roper II cut the lead to 21, and a Robbie Beran dunk on the next possession gave the Welsh-Ryan crowd something to cheer for in an otherwise lackluster performance. Another Audige long ball helped make the final deficit not look quite as bad.
With the help of Roper and Berry, the Wildcats finally found some offense late in the game, but it was far too late to matter in the win-loss column. Instead, they will have to hope the belated momentum of making five of their last seven shots can carry over into the ‘Cats next contests.
The Buckeyes move to 2-0 in Big Ten play and answered any questions about whether the offense is sustainable now that non-conference play is over. Just a day after a heartbreaking loss in the College Football Playoffs, the basketball team gave the Buckeye faithful a reason to celebrate.
For Northwestern, Collins and crew will have to recollect and prove that the 10-2 start was not a fluke. The shooting will have to improve for the ‘Cats to have any shot in the upcoming gauntlet of conference play. The Wildcats will look to get back on track Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan arena in a 8:00 p.m. CST matchup against in-state rival Illinois.