Ohio State hoops notebook: Duane Washington Jr. describes his game-winning shot attempt
EVANSTON, Ill. – They broke the huddle not far from 52 cardboard cutouts dotted with photos of babies, couples and even a dog clad in Northwestern’s shade of purple.
Defensively, No. 23 Ohio State had suffered through what senior Kyle Young would later call a few too many defensive slip-ups and allowed a seven-point lead with nearly five minutes to play completely disappear. The Wildcats had a 71-70 lead and a chance to do a number of things that haven’t happened in decades, but the Buckeyes had Duane Washington Jr., Seth Towns, E.J. Liddell and a chance.
Twelve seconds remained, and the play called for Washington, who had made just one field goal all season but brings a flair for the dramatic when he steps on the court, to attack the basket from the right side with his dominant hand. Once he got downhill, the junior guard would have options. Seth Towns was waiting in the corner. E.J. Liddell was on the opposite block.
But Washington got the look he wanted, and the one his coaches wanted. It just didn’t fall, and with that the Wildcats closed out a 71-70 comeback win against the Buckeyes.
“You’ve got to give it the best chance to go in,” Washington told The Dispatch. “Make a good basketball play. Make the right decision and hopefully everything works in your favor. Today, it didn’t.”
When Washington’s layup from the right block rimmed out, Liddell was at the ready. The sophomore forward, who finished with a team-high 15 points, battled for his eighth rebound amid a sea of white-clad Wildcats. Instead, Boo Buie, who 40 seconds earlier had hit what would be the game-winning three-pointer, nabbed it and drew the foul with two seconds to play.
Buie missed the front end of the one-and-one at the other end and although Liddell would snag it, his half-court desperation heave was off line and the Wildcats celebrated their comeback.
“We had to make a play,” Washington said. “Down one with 12 to do, we had to get into what we wanted to get into quick. I can make excuses about why what happened, happened, but I’ve got to be better. Didn’t play too great. Just gotta take it on the chin and get ready for the next one.”
It was a tough night for Washington, who finished 1 for 9 from the floor. After scoring a season-high 22 in Wednesday’s comeback win against No. 11 Rutgers, he finished with a season-low seven points. His primary partner in the backcourt, senior CJ Walker, had six points on 3 for 9 shooting with a team-high three turnovers.
That combined production is tough to overcome. And yet, the Buckeyes nearly did.
“That’s a great look,” Towns said of Washington’s drive. “Nearly uncontested at the rim. We just didn’t execute. Those things happen. We had a good opportunity to get a rebound with E.J. Everything worked out how coach drew it up, but it just didn’t fall for us.”
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said the mood was positive as the players broke the huddle for the fateful late possession.
“They knew what we were trying to run and trying to get,” he said. “I liked having E.J. there for the glass, potential tip-in, and I liked Duane coming to his right hand.”
Unranked Northwestern teams don’t often enjoy success against ranked Ohio State teams. The last time the Wildcats won in such a situation, they beat No. 16 Ohio State, 70-69, here on February 18, 1989.
The Buckeyes had won 21 straight games against the Wildcats while being ranked.
After being picked to finish last in the preseason Big Ten media poll conducted jointly by The Dispatch and the Athletic, Northwestern moved to 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since the 1967-68 season. The 2-0 start was the first for the Wildcats under coach Chris Collins and their first since the 2005-06 season.
The Buckeyes are 1-2 in Big Ten play for the second consecutive season.
Leading 64-59 with four minutes to play, the Buckeyes had a chance to bump the lead back up to seven points when Walker found his way into the paint and threw up a lob for Young. It would’ve been a tough assignment for the forward to get to anyway, but the seniors weren’t on the same page and Walker’s intended pass instead went right to Northwestern’s Pete Nance.
He threw it upcourt to Chase Audige, who scored on the uncontested slam with 3:59 to play. It was a four-point swing that pulled the Wildcats within 64-61.
It also marked the first of five straight possessions during which Northwestern scored upon, allowing it to close the game on a 12-6 run during the final four minutes.
“Down the stretch we were up seven at one point,” Young said. “We had to stay locked in defensively, continue to get good possessions at offense and we slipped up a few times. It is disappointing but nothing we can do about it now.”
What did Young mean by slipping up defensively?
“Just staying connected on defense,” he said. “Staying poised. Paying attention to detail. When we’re not fully locked in defensively, it can hurt you in the end. There were a few times attention to detail wasn’t there and our intensity had been lacking.”
The Wildcats hit four of their final five shots. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes stopped sharing the ball offensively, leading to easily contested possessions.
“We were stopping the ball too much,” Holtmann said. “We didn’t move it enough on enough possessions. I thought we had a good possession with Kyle as he finished in the post (to tie the game at 68). We struggled a little bit with some of their traps of E.J. All in all we just weren’t moving the ball.”
It stood in stark contrast to Wednesday’s win against the Scarlet Knights, where Ohio State closed with a flourish. It was reminiscent of their Big Ten opener at Purdue, a game where the Boilermakers kept the Buckeyes at arm’s length for the entire second half and the team’s upperclassmen spoke of needing to learn how to better close out games.
Towns was asked if he was surprised to see Ohio State falter where it had done so well just three days prior. He then quoted his former coach, Harvard’s Tommy Amaker.
“I can’t say too much in this game surprises me,” he said. “It’ s a matter of the hands you’re dealt and the different circumstances brought to you. Obviously this is something Coach Amaker used to say to us: Everything’s not right when you win and not everything’s wrong when you lose. There were some things we could’ve done in this game to win that we just didn’t capitalize on.”
Northwestern capitalized on Ohio State turnovers, particularly during the first half.
The Wildcats entered the game ranked 293rd nationally in defensive turnover percentage but turned an 8-2 advantage in turnovers forced into a 16-0 scoring advantage while the teams went into the half tied at 34. During the second half, they would force only two turnovers but turned them into four points, giving them a 20-4 advantage in what would be a one-point win.
“We talked about it (at halftime), for sure,” Holtmann said. “I thought their physicality bothered us too much with the ball. We had those possessions later, Duane had a turnover and stopped playing. We had too many of those possession right now where they were more physical with us. In the second half we were better, got better shots particularly early. Guys certainly did a better job taking care of the ball in the second half.”
Towns’ continued assimilation into the rotation took a big step forward in the loss. He scored his first points for the Buckeyes in the Rutgers win, finishing with four, but scored 11 against the Wildcats and was on the court for the pivotal offensive possession.
He finished with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and was 3 for 4 from three. All of his production came during the first half.
“Seeing a couple shots fall is good,” he said. “Honestly, I’m more concerned with how I’m moving and my mobility on the court, which has been feeling better every game.”
Buckeyes not named Towns were a combined 1 for 16 from three. Washington had the other make.
Towns also fouled Northwestern guard Ty Berry on a missed three-point attempt. He knocked down all three free throws to pull the Wildcats within 54-53 early in the second half. Walker, too, had a pair of costly mistakes that led directly to Northwestern points.
With less than a second remaining in the half, Walker fouled Nance at halfcourt to give him a one-one-one free-throw situation. He hit both to set the halftime score. And on another offensive possession, Walker army-crawled his way to a loose ball, then flung it back upcourt for what would be a run-out dunk for the Wildcats.
“You learn from it and move on,” Holtmann said. “We clearly have to play smarter in a couple of those special situations, one of them being the end of half for sure. That’s on me.”
Ohio State’s last game here was an emotional, 71-59 win on a date that rocked the basketball world. It was January 26, and NBA legend Kobe Bryant had passed away earlier that day in a helicopter crash.
Washington’s uncle, NBA veteran Derek Fisher, was teammates with Bryant, and Washington had a relationship with the Lakers great. After Ohio State’s win here last season, Washington spoke emotionally about playing through the loss and writing messages about Bryant on his shoes.
It crossed his mind when he entered the arena today, Washington said.
“I definitely thought about it,” he said. “I said my prayers before the game. I didn’t do anything crazy. I wasn’t super emotional or anything, just definitely remembered the last time I was here and the situation that happened. Rest in peace, Uncle Kobe, but other than that I just tried to go out there and win the game.”
“We had a couple possessions there where a number of guys, the ball just stopped with them. I thought our forwards did a really nice job playing through each other, but it’s not just on CJ. It’s on our guards collectively. We’ve got to finish games. I also thought we had some decent looks we didn’t make, and we passed up some shots we didn’t take and ended up taking a tougher shot.” – Holtmann