After running Wisconsin out of the gym in the regular season finale, many thought Ohio State would sail through the Big 10 Tournament with ease. This sentiment was short lived as they were taken down to the wire Friday in their first game against Northwestern. The Buckeyes were able to escape with an overtime victory 67-61, but it wasn’t pretty.
Northwestern and Ohio State played each other neck-and-neck for the entirety, which seems like the only way to play a game this time of year.
By: Justin Mertes-Mistretta
During close games in March, it is usually the seniors that step up and hit big shots, but on Friday it was the freshmen who saved the day for the ‘Bucks.
As expected, Jared Sullinger carried the team with 20 points and 18 rebounds, grabbing 11 of them in the first half. But, his biggest impact was in overtime when he went a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line. He finished the game 16-for-18 from the charity strip.
“Free throws are just a mentality,” Sullinger said. “I’ve been shooting free throws for the past two weeks after practice, so that really helped me out.”
However, the usually dominant big man went an abysmal 2-for-12 from the field, with both field goals coming in the first half. Sullinger was held without a field goal in the second half and overtime.
Ohio State’s other most notable freshman, point guard Aaron Craft, who is known for his tenacious defense, put up his second highest scoring output of the season with 17 points. He also pulled down an uncharacteristic seven rebounds.
The Buckeyes pulled away in overtime after Jon Diebler’s 3-pointer with a little over two minutes to go. However, it was his lone 3-point make of the day, a far cry from his mean.
And as Diebler goes, the Buckeyes follow, at least from beyond the arc. OSU followed up its 14-for-15 performance against Wisconsin with a paltry 3-for-15 outing Friday.
“Obviously we never got into our flow offensively, and when shots weren’t falling, I was fine with that,” coach Thad Matta said. “But hopefully we can shoot the ball a little better tomorrow. That’s what we’ve done all year.”
It is irrational to put too much stock in conference tournament games, as some teams have more to play for than others. The latter was clearly the case Friday, as Ohio State had a one seed all but locked up, while Northwestern was fighting for their tournament lives. However, the result is more than just an anomaly.
When a team blows out their last four opponents of the regular season by an average of over 22 points, hype starts to kick in, as it should. But, stuck in the mindset of “what have you done for me lately,” people forget that this team squeaked past mid-level teams to start the new year. As a matter of fact, the Buckeyes won by five points or less against Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, and Penn State.
The result Friday was even less surprising if you recall the game between the two teams in late-January when Ohio State went into Northwestern and won by a single point.
Next Game: Big 10 Semifinals against Michigan @ 12:40 CT on CBS.
Beware. This game, much like the Northwestern game, is going to be a nail-bitter. After all, this Michigan team only lost to Ohio State by four in Ann Arbor. This is also a Michigan team that lost to Syracuse by just three points on a neutral floor, took Kansas into overtime, and is fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes can’t afford to come out looking disinterested like they did Friday. While the Wolverines are young, they are much too talented to be taken lightly. I smell an upset brewing in Indianapolis.
Justin Mertes-Mistretta is a senior writer for TheSportsBank.net. Follow him on Twitter at MertesMist_tsb or read his blog here.Follow paulmbanks