No. 23 Ohio State falters down stretch, suffers 71-70 loss at Northwestern

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State's Justice Sueing drives against Northwestern's Chase Audige.

EVANSTON, Ill. – For the first time in 33 years, Ohio State’s men's basketball players got on a plane together for a Christmas flight. The stockings had been emptied, the presents had been opened and it was time to get down to business.

After arriving at their hotel at around 11 p.m. on Christmas, they got a decent night’s sleep, made the trip to Welsh-Ryan Arena and were handed a big lump of coal. With big men E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young battling down low and Seth Towns adding a first-half double-digit outburst, the No. 23 Buckeyes (7-2, 1-2 Big Ten) built a seven-point lead during the second half but faltered late in a 71-70 loss.

Boo Buie’s three-pointer with 1:04 to play answered a Young left-handed hook shot over fellow northeast Ohio product Pete Nance that had tied the score at 68. The Buckeyes forced a miss at the defensive end and brought the ball upcourt before calling timeout with 12 seconds to play. Washington got a driving layup to the right block but it rimmed out. Liddell nabbed the rebound in traffic but had the ball knocked out of his hands, and he had to foul with 2.8 seconds left.

The Wildcats missed a free throw, and Liddell’s half-court heave was just off as the Wildcats (6-1, 3-0) erupted.

With only a few dozen cardboard cutouts in the stands, the Buckeyes built a seven-point lead around the midpoint of the second half after the Wildcats had tied it at 48 with about 13 minutes to play. Liddell collected a contested Young miss and drew a foul, hitting both free throws to make it a 64-57 lead with exactly seven minutes.

The surging Wildcats, who were picked last in the preseason Big Ten media poll conducted jointly by The Dispatch and the Athletic, are 3-0 in the league for the first time since the 1967-68 season.

After beating then-No. 4 Michigan State on Dec. 20 and winning at Indiana three days later, Northwestern beat a ranked Ohio State team for the first time since it knocked off the No. 16 Buckeyes on Feb. 18, 1989. Ohio State had won 21 straight games against the Wildcats while being ranked.

Ohio State was poised to take a lead into the half after a Musa Jallow put-back with 3.9 seconds left, but CJ Walker fouled Northwestern’s Pete Nance near midcourt with 0.4 seconds left and sent the Akron native and one-time Buckeyes recruit to the line for a one-and-one situation. He hit both, tying the score at 34.

That the Wildcats were even with the Buckeyes was largely due to their ability to capitalize on Ohio State’s mistakes. Ohio State had eight first-half turnovers that Northwestern turned into 16 points, while the Buckeyes forced only two turnovers and generated no points from them.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy