Ohio State just survived its first game in the Big Ten Tournament, defeating Northwestern 67-61 in overtime. But the Wildcats used a masterful game plan to frustrate the Buckeyes most of the afternoon, one that might be copied by OSU foes in the NCAA Tournament.
Northwestern, perhaps headed to the NIT, slowed down the pace, taking Ohio State out of its rhythm. Several times in the second half and in the extra period, Northwestern put up a shot as the shot clock sounded.
In fact, the outcome prevented what would have been a controversy had OSU, the nation's No. 1-ranked team, been upset. With 2:01 left in regulation, Wildcats guard Alex Marcotullio hit a 3-pointer to give Northwestern a 52-51 lead, but an ESPN replay showed the shot clock had run out before the ball left his hands. The basket was ruled good, despite a request for review by OSU coach Thad Matta.
OSU freshman Jared Sullinger propelled the Buckeyes, hitting 11 consecutive free throws despite landing awkwardly on the tip to start overtime and grimacing for a minute or two.
Sullinger said he didn't recall ever making that many in a row.
"I don't think so,'' he told ESPN afterward. "After practice we always shoot 25 and I get another 25 in.''
He finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds, despite being pounded all day by the Wildcats' big men.
"That's Big Ten basketball,'' Sullinger said. "It was a good game by Northwestern. They played hard and they played smart.''
The Buckeyes' only field goal in overtime came from senior Jon Diebler, who hit a 3-pointer with 2:18 to go for a 61-55 lead. On fire from behind the arc in the previous two games, Diebler hit only 1 of 5 from 3-point range against the Wildcats.
Ohio State advanced to the Big Ten semifinals against the winner of the Michiga-Illinois game. At stake for the Buckeyes is perhaps a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and more likely the No. 1 overall seed. That means most in terms of scheduling. In each round of the NCAAs, the No. 1 overall seed will play at the site closest to its campus.