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.
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.
This 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.