Northwestern needed Wednesday night's game for a chance to get to the NCAA tournament and Ohio State needed it to stop the bleeding after a rough stretch of six games. It took last second heroics from Jared Sullinger however to help propel the Buckeyes to the narrowest of wins as Sully hit the game winning basket with three seconds to go and Ohio State escaped with a 75-73 win over Northwestern.
Sullinger led the Buckeyes with 22 points and 18 rebounds on the night, DeShaun Thomas had 19 points, Aaron Craft had a big night from distance going 4-5 from beyond the arc for 14 points and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. had 12 points.
Northwestern was led by 23 points from Drew Crawford and 22 points from John Shurna on his final game at home for the Wildcats. For most of the game it was a two-player game for the Cats but the rest of the team chipped in when they were called upon.
With 5:39 in the game the Buckeyes held a 70-58 lead and it appeared that despite a couple of tense moments that the Buckeyes would escape Evanston (Ill.) and set up an all-important game against Michigan State for a chance to secure a share of the Big Ten regular season title. But Northwestern was not ready to give up and the Buckeyes couldn't do much right down the stretch.
The Cats would get things going with a three pointer by Alex Marcotullio, three of his six on the night to cut into the Buckeye lead. Northwestern finished the night 13-27 from distance in comparison to Ohio State's 6-19.
Bill Carmody's team would cut it to five after a Reggie Hearn layup at the 3:44 mark and things were starting to get tense for Thad Matta's team and it was obvious that players were starting to press. Thomas would answer for Ohio State with a three pointer but on the very next possession David Sobolewski would answer with one of his own and cut the deficit down to five once against for NU.
The two teams would trade missed buckets on the next pair of touches and then William Buford would get a look at the basket and come up empty (Buford had a poor night with six points on 3-10 shooting) and Sullinger would come up with the board only to have Sobolewski come up and get the steal and force the foul on the Buckeyes where JerShon Cobb would convert on both attempts to get the lead down to three.
With less than 45 seconds left the Buckeyes inbounded the ball and outleted it to Smith, Jr. who was called for a walk after making contact with a Northwestern defender. It appeared that Ohio State would dodge that bullet after a Hearn miss but when Thomas came down with the rebound it was stolen again by Cobb and that gave the Cats one more look.
After a timeout the Buckeyes were so focused on the top two scorers for Northwestern that Marcotullio was able to wrong-foot Thomas and hit a deep three pointer to tie the game up at 73-all.
The Buckeyes came right back however and Smith, Jr. inbounded the ball to Craft who took it just past the midcourt line and found Sullinger on the baseline who hit a one-handed shot with three seconds left to give the Buckeyes the lead.
"That is where we wanted to go," Matta said. "Aaron got a full steam ahead and made a great pass and they had a little guy on him and it worked out well for us."
The Cats did not have any timeouts left and had to inbound immediately and did not get a shot of any consequence off and lost the game to the No. 11 team in the nation.
Ohio State held an edge in many of the key categories, most notably in rebounds where the Cats totaled the same number of boards and Sullinger with 18 and Ohio State had 44 as a team. Ohio State however committed 16 turnovers and the Cats were able to score 21 points on Buckeye mistakes, most notably down the stretch.
"Every time we come here they make those types of shots against us," Matta said. "We didn't play smart down the stretch and we kind of gave it back to them, You to defend these guys and know that they are going to make shots."
Now Ohio State has to focus on the finale on Sunday afternoon against Michigan State. By virtue of a win by Purdue earlier on Wednesday night the Spartans locked up the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament but Ohio State can still clinch part of the conference title with a win. By virtue of Ohio State's win however the team does not have to play the extra game on Thursday by clinching a first round bye.
The teams will match-up on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. (ET) for a nationally televised game on CBS.