Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Northwestern played a talented Big Ten opponent to the wire and came oh-so-close to pulling out a win before falling short by just a hair. In familiarly painful fashion, the ‘Cats (10-9, 1-5) stuck to the script Thursday night as they fell 69-67 at home to the Ohio State Buckeyes (15-5, 4-3). It’s NU’s fifth consecutive loss, and its fourth consecutive defeat by less than seven points in conference play.
Down 66-62 with under a minute left, the ‘Cats missed two makeable shots at the rim and committed some ugly turnovers that all but spelled their doom. Tre Demps banked in a deep three point prayer with five seconds left to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 68-67, but it was too little too late against Ohio State.
“We’re playing great,” coach Chris Collins said. “There’s [always] one play, or one shot, and we’ve just got to get over the hump. We just haven’t been able to do it. It’s tough knowing that you fought so hard and came up a little short.”
Freshman point guard (and future NBA lottery pick) D’Angelo Russell put the Buckeyes on his back, led all scorers with 33 points and picked apart NU at the point throughout the game. Collins credited Russell for his efforts, and his ability to consistently make shots, contested or otherwise.
“[Russell’s] as good a player as we’ve played against all year long,” Collins said. “He’s a special talent, no question about that.”
The referees left their mark on this game, as well. At the 2:41 mark of the second half, with Northwestern down 63-60, Demps drove to the rim and was blocked by Ohio State’s Shannon Scott (Anthony Lee was incorrectly credited with the block in the official stats) on a layup attempt. But Scott made contact with the ball seemingly after it had hit the backboard, grounds for a goaltending call.
But there was no such call, and Welsh-Ryan Arena, along with Collins, went absolutely ballistic. Russell, on cue, responded by putting Vic Law on his heels and draining a three from the top of the key to make it 66-60, completing a five-point swing at a crucial point in the game.
“I saw everything you guys saw, and somebody’s got to be held accountable for it,” Collins said in reference to the no-call. “I was just fighting for my team. It’s just so tough that they’re not getting the results they deserve.”
In what some might call yet another moral victory, the ‘Cats actually did continue to show improvement. Northwestern has been plagued by slow starts all season, but today the ‘Cats finally found a way to buck that trend, going on a 14-4 extended run to start the game on the back of absurdly hot 71 percent shooting. Alex Olah pitched in with two long-range jumpers, and Jeremiah Kreisberg head-faked a guy all the way to Skokie before driving to the hoop. It was that kind of absurd hotness.
But the Buckeyes, quick to remind the ‘Cats that basketball is a game of runs, punched back, overcoming a 21-10 deficit with a 14-3 run to take a 24-23 lead with six minutes left in the half. OSU led by four at halftime.
Ohio State opened up a lead as big as 11, 54-43, in the second half, but the ‘Cats gradually chipped away over the next ten minutes with a 17-6 extended run, tying the score at 60 on a Jershon Cobb triple from the corner before Russell took the game into his own hands.
Northwestern will aim to end this skid in College Park, Md., on Sunday when it takes on the 12th-ranked Maryland Terrapins.