Northwestern men's basketball is trying to get in the habit of breaking droughts. While the largest monkey in the world still rests on the team's collective back, the 'Cats (16-4, 5-2) busted out of one slightly smaller drought in ugly, gritty fashion on Sunday, beating Ohio State (12-8, 2-5 B1G) in Columbus for the first time since 1977, 74-72.
The 'Cats started 1-for-7 from the field but clawed their way back to trail just 9-8 through the first five minutes. Their shooting woes continued though, starting 4-of-19 overall, and Ohio State was able to grab a 19-13 lead about midway through the first half.
The Buckeyes shot a scalding 64 percent early on, but NU's solid offensive rebounding kept them close while the 'Cats started to find their stroke. Bryant McIntosh scored nine of NU's first 15 points.
NU tied it at 23 with back to back baskets by Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey, and took the 24-23 lead with a free throw at the 6:09 mark in the first half. This was all part of a 10-0 NU run that gave the 'Cats a 27-23 lead. Ohio State regained a 28-27 lead, but NU reeled off yet another run, this one of the 9-0 variety, to grab a 36-28 lead with 43 seconds left in the half. It was NU's largest lead of the day to that point.
Ohio State responded with a late three but that was all they'd get as NU took a satisfying (given the circumstances) 36-31 lead to the locker room. Lindsey led NU with 10 points in the first half.
The second half started much like the first half did for the Wildcats, as they started a paltry 1-for-10 from the field. Luckily for NU, they had spotted themselves a five-point lead at the half, and trailed just 41-40 five minutes in to the second half.
But those Wildcat shooting woes wouldn't go away, and eventually the Buckeyes capitalized, grabbing a 55-52 lead with 8:33 left in the game. NU continued to shoot poorly, but an Ohio State drought allowed the 'Cats to crawl back, and after big shots from Sanjay Lumpkin, Lindsey and Isiah Brown, NU held a 63-58 lead with three minutes remaining.
Ohio State knocked down a three and a free throw to cut NU's lead to 63-62, but McIntosh and Lumpkin hit six straight free throws without rebuttal to give NU a comfortable 69-62 lead they did not relinquish. Two crowd-energizing three-pointers from Ohio State cut their lead to 70-68 with 23.6 ticks left on the clock, and another OSU bucket allowed them to keep pace. But Lindsey, the overall leading scorer with 21, sunk two big free throws to make it 74-70 with 5.4 left, ending the threat and, essentially, the game.
In spite of shooting just 37.5 percent as a team and four fouls each by Dererk Pardon, Law and Lumpkin, the 'Cats found a way, as they have so often this season. The Buckeyes outrebounded the 'Cats 40-39, too. Worse still, NU only put up 11 second chance points despite 15 offensive boards. But NU buttered its bread with points off turnovers, winning that battle 17-6.
NU returns to action on Thursday when it takes on Nebraska at Welsh-Ryan Arena at 7 p.m.