COLUMBUS, Ohio - Last season the Northwestern Wildcats pushed the Buckeyes to the brink twice with an overtime thriller and a one-point loss in Evanston. There would be no such heroics on Wednesday night however as William Buford scored a career high 28 points as Ohio State (13-1, 1-0) opened up Big Ten play with a dominating 87-54 win over Northwestern (10-3, 0-1).
Jared Sullinger had 17 points and 14 rebounds for his 7th double-double of the season. DeShaun Thomas had 16 points and five rebounds while Jordan Sibert had a career night off of the bench with 12 points on 4-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Wildcat tandem of Drew Crawford and John Shurna came into the game as the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers in the Big Ten but were held to a pedestrian 9-30 from the field and a combined 24 points. Dave Sobolewski was the only other Wildcat to register in double figures (10 points).
"I felt we executed the things we felt were important coming into the game," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "We got a great lift off the bench from everyone who came into the game and it really ignited us."
Ohio State has been plagued by slow starts this season but racked up 41 points in the first half on 48.4-percent shooting from the field. But the Cats were able to hang tough for the first eight minutes and kept the game tied going into the second media timeout.
"I think it as (13-all) and then they just exploded on us," Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody said. "They were beating us down the court a little bit, hit about three three's in a row there and it seemed like their defense got a little tougher."
Ohio State's All-American forward had nine of Ohio State's first 13 points and had four rebounds in the opening 6:41 and that output made the sellout crowd at Value City Arena ecstatic but it was also something that was not lost on Sullinger's head coach.
"I thought Jared, first possession, went to work early and it was good to see him and I thought he moved better today than he has in a long time," Matta said. "I think that gives some of those guys some confidence out there knowing that he is on his way back."
After being knotted up at 13-all the Buckeyes went on an 11-0 run with three three-pointers (two by Sibert, one by Buford) and the lead never dipped beneath double figures the rest of the way.
Going into Wednesday night's league opener the sophomore guard was shooting 4-25 from beyond the arc and was disappointed where his outside shooting game was taking him.
"I have been coming in late and shooting with one of our managers," Sibert said. "I am making sure that I am getting up shots. I know in non-conference that I didn't shoot as well as I wanted to do and I am just trying to make an adjustment."
Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft may have helped with the adjustment inadvertently in practice however.
"(Aaron Craft) kind of messed up my finger (in practice)," Sibert joked as he showed the post game media that he was wearing black tape over one of his fingers. "The team was giving the credit for the shots today because my finger is messed up."
Matta confirmed after the game that Sibert had hurt his hand in practice but joked that they weren't going to do anything to fix it if he was going to shoot like that. In the post game interview room however Sibert's teammates were relentless on the young guard.
"He didn't tear ligaments," Sullinger joked. "It's just a little bruise. He is trying to be like Kobe (Bryant)... it's his favorite player."
Few people expected Ohio State to get this game into the 80s with Northwestern's past track record of keeping the game on the slower side and playing for fewer possessions.
"We told our guys not to be surprised because they are averaging close to 75 points a game and I think that is always one of the myths," Matta said. "Last year for whatever reason it was low, low possessions in the game... you have got to watch because they can strike you quick because they have so many guys that can shoot it."
Buford was obviously the guy with the hot hand on Wednesday night but the No. 8 scorer all time in Ohio State history (1,657 points - 99 behind Jay Burson) didn't want to dominate the spotlight alone and paid homage to his teammates.
"I was fortunate to knock them down because my teammates were setting great screens for me," Buford said. "My teammates kept telling me to shoot and I was fortunate to knock them down."
Ohio State will be back in action on New Year's Eve in Bloomington against Indiana for its first league road game of the 2011-12 season.