COLUMBUS, Ohio — The No. 24 Ohio State Buckeyes were struggling to find their way in the first 10 minutes against Northwestern on Wednesday night before they dialed up the intensity and left the Northwestern Wildcats in the dust.
Defense and rebounding led to offense as the Buckeyes caught fire and never cooled off en route to a 76-60 victory over the Wildcats in a Big Ten game in Value City Arena.
“For whatever reason, I think we woke up,” Ohio State forward Sam Thompson said. “They got up nine and we drew the line. That’s what we talk about needing to do, having that killer instinct and put teams away, and I think we did that.”
The Buckeyes (21-6, 8-6 Big Ten) won for the fifth time in their last six games after enduring a four-game losing streak in January. Northwestern (12-15, 5-9) lost its fourth consecutive game. The Wildcats have lost 33 straight in Columbus dating to 1977.
Trailing by nine points early in the first half, the Buckeyes recovered by scoring on 20 of 22 possessions during a long stretch spanning the halves and led by as many as 21 points twice in the second half.
“I thought they turned up their defense a notch,” first-year Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. ” I felt an extra burst of energy. They have a very veteran team.”
The intensity boiled over late in the game. Tempers flared with 5:24 left and Ohio State leading 66-50. Several players exchanged shoves under the basket before the officials intervened.
After a long delay to review replay monitors and determine fouls on the play, Northwestern forward Nikola Cerina and Ohio State forward LaQuinton Ross were ejected.
After the game, official Ray Perone told a pool reporter that Cerina was disqualified for swinging at Ohio State center Amir Williams, which will result in a one-game suspension for Cerina because he used a closed hand. Ross was ejected for committing two dead-ball contact technical fouls, but he will not be suspended for fighting.
The skirmish resulted in 10 free throws. Williams and guard Aaron Craft combined to make four foul shots for Ohio State. Northwestern guard JerShon Cobb made two of four free throws and forward Nathan Taphorn made one of two.
But at that point the outcome had long been decided.
“I think it was the consistency, no question,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of the Buckeyes’ recovery from the lukewarm start. “The big thing was we felt like we needed a run. I thought we did a pretty good job keeping our composure. Guys knew coming out of timeouts what they needed to do and went out and executed it.”
Ross scored 16 points to lead Ohio State before he was disqualified. Guard Lenzelle Smith posted his second career double-double with 14 points and a team-leading 10 rebounds. Craft also had 14 points.
“I just feel like our transition game and getting offense off of our defense is our strong suit,” Smith said. “Any time we can get in the game and force the other team into turnovers and get steals, usually we’re getting wide-open 3s and dunks. It just builds on each other. It gives us momentum and carries throughout the game.”
Thompson contributed 11 points, hitting 3 of 4 from 3-point range. The Buckeyes were 7 of 16 on 3-pointers for 43.8 percent.
“I just had a bunch of open looks and I was able to knock them down,” Thompson said. “I hit some big 3s, Q (Ross) hit some big 3s. We were shooting the ball well today.”
Northwestern forward Drew Crawford was hot early but was slowed by foul trouble in the second half and finished with 22 points,
Northwestern was strong coming out of the gate, opening a 25-16 with 7:19 left in the first half. Ohio State appeared to be in trouble at that point, but the Buckeyes charged back and went ahead 30-28 on a drive by Ross against Crawford. Northwestern reclaimed the lead briefly on a 3-pointer by guard Tre Demps before Ohio State finished the half with a 7-2 run to lead 37-33 at intermission.
“I was really pleased with how we started the game,” Collins said. “We had good energy. What Ohio State did was
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