COLUMBUS — Duane Washington Jr. scored a career-high 23 points and Ohio State staved off a late charge by Northwestern to defeat the Wildcats, 81-71, in Value City Arena on Wednesday evening.
Justice Sueing, starting at point guard in place of injured guards C.J. Walker and Jimmy Sotos, scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and Justin Ahrens connected on four of his five three-point attempts to help lead the Buckeyes.
Northwestern’s Chase Audige led all scorers with 25 points, and Miller Kopp added 12 of his 14 points in the second half to boost the Wildcats to a near upset.
Audige appeared poised to steal the show early for Northwestern as he got off to a blistering start, scoring the first 11 points of the game for the Wildcats. But while Audige was filling up the stat sheet, the rest of the Wildcats were ice cold. Washington Jr., meanwhile, was heating up for the Buckeyes.
Following a layup for his first points of the evening, Washington Jr. connected on his first three-pointer of the game to give Ohio State an early 8-6 lead. A second three by the junior guard increased the Buckeyes’ lead to 13-9 with 14:48 remaining in the first half.
Audige knocked down a jumper to increase his first-half total to 15 and momentarily recapture the lead for Northwestern at 17-16, but the Wildcats found themselves playing catch-up the rest of the way. Baskets from Sueing and Zed Key gave Ohio State a four-point advantage, and Kyle Young’s jumper gave the Buckeyes their largest lead of the first half at 23-17 as the clock hit the midway point of the opening period.
A trio of free-throws from Washington Jr. pushed the Ohio State lead to seven and capped off a 10-2 run for the Buckeyes before Audige stopped the Northwestern slide with a fast-break dunk.
Ohio State’s first-half lead grew to as many as 11 points following a layup by Washington Jr. and again when freshman Meechie Johnson, playing in just his second game, drilled his second three-pointer of the night. Audige’s layup cut the Buckeye lead to single digits at 42-33 as the horn sounded for the end of the first period.
Audige finished the half with 21 points to lead all scorers, but Northwestern combined to shoot just 1-10 from three over the opening 20 minutes while allowing Ohio State to connect from three eight times.
The lead continued to hover around 10 points for Ohio State through the early stages of the second half until Young’s dunk pushed the Buckeye lead to 13 points, the largest deficit of the game for Northwestern, with 15 minutes remaining in the second half.
In danger of being knocked out and in desperate need of an answer, Northwestern responded in a major way. Following a layup by Audige, back-to-back threes from Kopp capped an 8-0 run to get the Wildcats back within five points at 53-48 as the clock ticked under 13 minutes.
Baskets on three consecutive possessions again gave Ohio State some breathing room, increasing its lead to double digits at 64-52 with 9:32 remaining, but Northwestern had one more charge left in it as the game grew to its late stages.
After Young’s jumper gave the Buckeyes a nine-point lead with just over five minutes to play, the Wildcats hit back with an eight-point flurry led by threes from Pete Nance and Boo Buie to cut the lead to a single point with just over four minutes to play as Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann called a timeout to stem the tide.
Looking to avoid a second collapse this season at the hands of Northwestern, Ohio State wasted no time in punching back out of the timeout as it engineered a run of its own to put the game away. Ahrens’ three out of the timeout ended the Buckeyes’ scoring drought, and a tough transition basket from Sueing had them up by six with less than three minutes to play.
Ohio State wasn’t done adding to the lead as a three-point play from Young and a four-point spurt from Washington Jr. capped off the 12-0 run to put the game away and move the Buckeyes to 10-3 overall and 4-3 in Big Ten play.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.