ROSEMONT, Ill. — In desperate need of a win that could jump-start a struggle of a season, Northwestern coach Chris Collins had some choices to make.
“(When you talk about) shots you’re going to live with, it is going to be Micah Potter doing that or Keita Bates-Diop?” he said.
It wasn’t a knock on Potter but a commentary on how well Bates-Diop has played this season.
And on a night when the junior looked mortal for the first time in weeks, it was Potter and the rest of the Ohio State team that built a 15-point lead, withstood a late Northwestern run and moved back into a tie atop the Big Ten standings with a 71-65 win over the Wildcats on Wednesday night at Allstate Arena.
As Bates-Diop finished with his second-lowest scoring total of the season — 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting — Potter was perfect on five field goals for 13 points, C.J. Jackson and Jae’Sean Tate each added 12, and seven Buckeyes made at least two field goals.
“It’s not a one-man team by any extent,” Bates-Diop said. “We have a good team. I get a lot of the credit sometimes, but everybody else is doing a lot of good things.”
Ohio State (16-4, 7-0) has won six straight and 11 of its last 12, and in the process has made coach Chris Holtmann the first Big Ten coach to win his first seven conference games since Iowa’s Sam Barry started 11-0 in 1923.
Northwestern (11-9, 2-5) looks increasingly unlikely to be able to return to the NCAA Tournament after last season’s first appearance in school history.
And yet, it came down to the wire.
After Ohio State had led by as many as 15 points, the Buckeyes were ahead 66-55 with 3:52 to play when the Wildcats fought back. Scottie Lindsey buried a three-pointer with 43 seconds left to make it a one-possession game, but Jackson was fouled twice on the next possession to put the Buckeyes in the bonus.
With 26.8 seconds to play, Jackson converted both free throws in the 1-and-1 situation to ice the game. Holtmann’s confidence at that moment in the junior, who had airballed a shot or two earlier in the game?
“As high as can be,” he said. “I’m 100 percent confident in him.”
In the middle of a stretch of three straight road games in the span of seven days, Ohio State has now fashioned its longest Big Ten winning streak since it opened the 2010-11 season with 11 straight wins. It has also won 30 of its last 32 against Northwestern after losing to the Wildcats last year at Value City Arena.
With Kaleb Wesson struggling against the Northwestern zone, Potter shined. He buried a three, swished a 16-foot jumper from the right baseline and was active on tip-ins, finishing with his second-best scoring night of the season and his best overall game since suffering a high ankle sprain in the fourth game of the season.
“It feels really good,” Potter said. “They did a good job defensively on (Bates-Diop and Wesson), but at the same time I was glad I could step in and help the team.”
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