Sullinger’s Second Surprise

It happened so fast, there was barely time to react. It came out of a timeout and built up after a dramatic turnaround both defensively and offensively. It was right there for the taking once again. The opportunity. Someone was going to get it.

But it happened so fast, you would hardly know it was there.

Ohio State got the ball across the mid-court line and into the post to Jared Sullinger faster than you could think. Sullinger turned and banked in the shot less than four seconds after Ohio State brought the ball back into play.

Certainly, still stunned, or perhaps showing the composure to know what had to be done, the ball came into John Shurna. His half-court heave, eerily reminiscent to last year’s near stunner from Drew Crawford at Welsh-Ryan Arena, hit the front of the rim. On line, but just short.

That feels like where Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament chances are after a shocking 75-73 loss to Ohio State at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday.

Score Off. Rtg. eFG% O.Reb.% TO% FTR
Ohio State 75 119.0 55.2 60.0 19.7 19.0
Northwestern 73 120.2 62.5 14.3 10.8 15.4

The Buckeyes’ dream of winning a share of the Big Ten title remains alive. The Wildcats? Who knows where they stand now. That last chance for another marquee regular season win is out the window with just the finale at Iowa remaining before the Big Ten Tournament. With the assumption that some team is going to have its bubble burst by a surprise in the minor or mid-major conference tournaments, the Wildcats likely need a win in the Big Ten Tournament too… maybe even that win in the second round against one of the top four teams in the conference.

A good showing does not seem like it will be enough anymore.

As stunning as the end might have been for Northwestern, it was getting there that might have been even more shocking.

Northwestern was outrebounded and outplayed for much of the game. Ohio State held a 42-16 advantage on the glass. Not a type-o, 42-16 advantage. The Buckeyes had second-chance opportunities on almost every possession at least one out of every two possessions. That is what the 52.9 percent offensive rebound rate means.

And that is just a ridiculous stat. Utterly ridiculous. And unacceptable from just about every team.

Then there was the 50-percent shooting from Ohio State, bolstered by all those offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities.

John Shurna and Drew Crawford sit on the bench disappointed after a lossThis was a game where Northwestern had almost no matchup advantages and looked completely outmatched. Sullinger was not just a terror on that quick-hit play to win the game at the end. He was a terror throughout with 22 points, 18 rebounds and 11 offensive rebounds. DeShaun Thomas was also terrifying with 19 points and 10 rebounds. When you have two players who are just locking down the glass — Ohio State had a total rebound percentage of 72.4 percent… seriously, this is insane — you are going to win a lot of games.

The Buckeyes took control in the first half and led by as much as 13 points. Despite all these advantages though, Northwestern would not go away. Not a chance. Not with so much on the line.

The Wildcats inched back throughout the game. They closed to within five, only to see Ohio State answer with a 3-pointer and begin to pull away again. Then NU would come back again.

This dance continued throughout the second half. Until finally, improbably, fate seemed to throw Northwestern a bone.

Down five points, Northwestern forced a jump ball after giving up yet another offensive rebound. The Cats got a two and then set up for the press. That is when Ohio State traveled, turning the ball over back to Northwestern.

Alex Marcotullio drained a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game and send Welsh-Ryan Arena into delirium heading into a timeout.

Then the stunning and impossible, yet completely predictable and still bitterly disappointing, happened. That stings… a lot.

It was out there for the taking. Not at the end of the game — Northwestern did all it could offensively to get this thing to overtime and pull of the improbable upset. This game might have been lost in the opportunities given up when no one was guarding them.

Drew Crawford scored 23 points on 9-for-11 shooting and 4-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc. That is a 100 percent effective field goal percentage. But he was just one for five from the foul line — a still respectable 87.1 percent true shooting percentage. Leaving points on the board in a close game from a dependable shooter and scorer is just not a way to score these big wins.

Northwestern, ultimately, can look at itself and find reasons for the loss. Even with the poor defense and rebounding throughout the night. The opportunity was there.

And once again, the opportunity was missed. Eventually, the Wildcats will run out of them.

  • Alaskawildcat

    ESPN Radio says even after our game with Ohio State their bracketologist has Northwestern as the last team in. How many one score games have we taken into the end of regulation against top 20 teams and been denied? It must be some kind of NCAA historical record. Come Selection Sunday those close losses could well give us the edge over our competition. We played like a winning team against the likely Big Ten Champion and our opponent deserves credit for stealing the W with 3 seconds left. Now to, at a minimum, steal a W from Iowa ourselves.

    • let’s be fair

      This team is 8-6 in games settled by 7 or fewer points (including the OT loss to Michigan). It’s not like they haven’t caught some breaks along the way. Historically Carmody’s Princeton offense / limited possessions has kept a significant portion of games relatively close.

  • db

    The last OSU possession was the single worst defensive possession I may have ever seen. No denial on craft? 4 seconds coast to coast uncontested? Guarding Sullinger with Cobb? Horribly designed, it is f’ing infuriating.

    And in case anyone didn’t notice, Frazier had a wide open look from 28 the other night with another ridiculous defensive look.

    Our team plays with their hands tied behind their back every g-d game. It isn’t fair to the kids.

    • Philip Rossman-Reich

      I agree. I pinned a lot of last night’s loss on the job Bill Carmody has done recruiting centers the last three years. You know you are in the Big Ten, you know you will have to play games like this. How do you not make sure you have a reliable center?

      Basketball is all about matchups, and going in to this one, you knew Sullinger was going to be a (excuse the pun) BIG problem. There was no one to match up with him. And he ate Northwestern up. Any time the ball found its way into the paint, the defense was toast.

      The guys played extremely hard just to keep that game close. They waited for the run to give themselves a chance. It really felt like there was little more they could do (make free throws was about it).

      Still, in my opinion, nothing has really changed. NU is still a team on the bubble that needs to beat Iowa and probably win the first round of the BTT. At least, we have the national media on our side. Hopefully the attention sways some of the Selection Committee (remember they are human too).

    • Peter Skillz

      During the time-out I was thinking it would be tough for OSU to get a decent shot going full-court with only 8 seconds. Then they get a lay-up in 4 seconds. Unbelievable.

      I haven’t watched a replay of that play- and I probably won’t- but I recall thinking Crawford, at mid-court, seemed confused about what to do. Craft caught the ball about ten feet in front of him and Crawford just stood at mid-court. He didn’t aggressively pressure Craft and that made the pass to Sullinger that much easier.

      Why was Cobb on Sullinger? It has to be Curletti, right? I mean Curletti probably had a 5% chance of stopping Sullinger, but that’s better than the 0% chance Cobb had.

      • CM

        Crawford seemed to panic after Craft got the ball so easily. (off of a Buford shove/offensive foul…that no one seems to talk about). I think Bill had it drawn up well in the back-court, but the guys panicked. They should’ve collapsed…instead they backpedaled. Probably shouldn’t have had Cobb on Sullinger…but if you’re going to panic and let Craft push the ball, no one is going to deny Sullinger 1-on-1.

  • TypeO

    We are a woefully undersized and thin team with two studs, and emerging point guard, and 3 improving role players – Alex M, Hearn and Cobb. Our top 6-7 is NCAA caliber, IMO, but the close losses might kill us. I have taken issue with BC many times for many things but not last night. Sure, the D on the final possession was poor, and I can take issue with not switching out of the 1-3-1 sooner, but the team left it all on the floor. No moral victory but no bile for BC today from me.

    • Dozer

      Agree completely. I get that we’re all tired of moral victories and I get that people need to vent and I get that there are flaws with this team that could have been worked out a long time ago, but I’m still proud of the team and the coaching staff.

  • bandcat

    MIN. War Horse 39, Crawford 27, Hearn31, Cobb 25,Sobo 34, Nick 2, Curletti 21, Marco21…..War Horse beat to submission in this one. Could we not have found a couple more Min. on the bench somehow…Hope this has a happy ending like the movie……..

  • jes11

    So many reasons we lost, and we can sit here all day and list them–PRR only touched on some of them. If you really examine this game and all the other close ones, you can probably come up with reasons why we keep losing these (defense, rebounding, overall talent/depth, coaching if you want. etc). But at some point you have to throw up your hands and say is there a god? What a heartbreaker.

    • Steve

      of course there are reasons but I agree with you. This is just hard to take. Couple this with losses a few years ago to psu on the road, illinois at home and purdue at home, osu on the road, and then various games the last two years…osu twice last year, msu twice and so many others that i have blocked out, it’s just an unbelievable run of close but no cigar. but this year, with so many chances to get in the tournament despite all of these loses (it’s unbelievable that despite all of these losses with any one of them being a win we are probably in) we can’t get one. its really really really frustrating.

  • Nate

    I still can’t believe how close they came at the end based on how the majority of the game went. I just wish they could rattle off 3 or 4 straight and get into the tourney without any doubt. Nothing’s easy with this team.

    It would be fitting if they barely made it to Dayton based on a pity vote, or worse the NIT.