Northwestern leaves it all out there, nearly topples Ohio State
Northwestern was not going to let injuries keep it from competing. The team had to know that the margin for error was much smaller now with Jared Swopshire out for the season and Alex Olah out at least for this road trip to Columbus to take on Ohio State. That was not going to stop the team from competing again.
The Wildcats have always been about careful and precise execution of the offense under Bill Carmody’s care. The team is focused it seems on getting the shots it wants — mainly those back-door cuts or open 3-pointers. If teams are not prepared for it, it can be devastating on its own offensively.
Still, you need to make shots. You need to finish. And with just seven scholarship players and tons of inexperience to boot, finishing can be tough.
Or it can be agonizing.
After leading for most of the game, and see-sawing back and forth into and out of the lead in the second half, Northwestern found itself down by two points. Reggie Hearn drove down the baseline and got to the basket. He put a shot up onto the rim and it hung on the back iron for a tantalizingly long time. If it rolled in, Northwestern would be tied with about two minutes to go. If it fell out, it could be a momentum-killing moment.
The ball hung there. It stopped. It literally stopped for a moment! Then it rolled off into the hands of an Ohio State player. The Buckeyes took the ball to the other end of the floor and nearly threw it away — it was apparently tipped. The Buckeyes scored again off the inbound with Aaron Craft making a tough layup with the shot clock winding down.
Northwestern was out of gas at that point. Nikola Cerina tried a 3-pointer and Ohio State slowly (and finally) pulled away for a 69-59 win over a Northwestern team that had given its all and proved the team will not be a tough out in the final six games of the season.
Tre Demps scored 16 points and Reggie Hearn had 10 points to lead Northwestern. Mike Turner played a strong offensive game with eight assists from the center spot (although he did foul out). Kale Abrahamson had 13 points in his first start in a long while, including a couple of John Shurna-like 3-pointers that kept momentum on Northwestern’s side throughout the game.
It was hard to believe, but Northwestern controlled the pace of this game and controlled the lead for the majority of it. The Wildcats burned off 10 straight points early on to take control with a six-point lead. From there, the team’s deliberate play and willingness to wait out the shot clock helped keep the score low and always within reach. There was no panic.
Ohio State may not have taken Northwestern completely seriously. The Buckeyes’ defense was loose and the Wildcats took advantage with their cutting and incisive passing. Not to mention a great 3-point shooting performance — 11 for 26 from beyond the arc.
NU knew it would not last and Ohio State did come back to take the lead late in the first half. But every time the Buckeyes tried to put distance or seemed about ready to take a comfortable lead, the Wildcats had an answer. It could have been Kale Abrahamson draining a big 3-pointer coming around a screen or Dave Sobolewski making a play. The Wildcats were able to answer.
This was now a team playing like it expected to win and determined to do so.
And really, the Wildcats did everything they could to make that happen. There was not much more you could ask of them. It came down to the basics of the game and the team’s motto: Make Shots.
Hearn put himself in the right position to tie the game and the ball simply would not fall for him. And with so much adrenaline and energy put into the game, that noticeably deflated the team and emboldened the higher-ranked Buckeyes to finish the game off.
There was not much more Bill Carmody could ask of his guys. And he will have to ask it again most likely Sunday against Illinois. If they give this kind of effort again, there is a good chance the Wildcats can still pick up more than a few wins.