Northwestern ekes out Ohio State at home, 71-70

By Ben Moskow

What do Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, Watergate and the New York Mets’ first World Series win all have in common?

All three events took place more recently than the last time Northwestern men’s basketball won its first three conference games. 

After two big wins against Indiana and a ranked Michigan State team, the Wildcats (6-1, 3-0 B1G) finished off their monumental week with a tense and gritty 71-70 victory over No. 23 Ohio State (7-2, 1-2 B1G) at Welsh-Ryan Arena. As of publishing, the ‘Cats are one of just three Big Ten teams without a conference loss this season.

The game was a battle from start to finish, as neither team ever led by more than eight points. Out of the gate, Ohio State connected on its first four shots to jump out to an 8-0 advantage but a hot streak from forward Miller Kopp put Northwestern right back in it, scoring 12 of the Wildcats’ first 14 points to put the Wildcats on top by four with 13:03 left in the first half. Kopp led all scorers with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range. The 16 shots were the most he has taken in a game this season.

The 14-10 gap would be the only time the two teams were separated by more than one possession for the rest of the period. At halftime, the Wildcats and Buckeyes were deadlocked at 34 apiece. The ‘Cats hung on in the first half in large part due to converting, turning eight Buckeye turnovers into 16 points.

Northwestern guard Boo Buie opened the second half with a go-ahead layup but Ohio State answered with an 8-0 run capped off by an and-one from forward Kyle Young to give the Buckeyes a 42-36 lead with 17:25 left to play. Young played 26 impactful minutes for the Buckeyes, finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Two free throws from Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell off of an offensive rebound increased the Buckeye lead to 64-57 with 6:59 to play. It was their largest advantage since they led 10-3 15:52 to play in the first half. In a game that had been tight since the opening tip, the gap seemed massive.

Then, Northwestern’s defense put on the clamps. The ‘Cats allowed just six points the rest of the way and the offense got just enough to squeak out the W.

Chase Audige displayed his closer mentality once again on a defining sequence down the stretch. He contested a Seth Towns three-pointer, got the rebound and nailed a gutsy three-pointer of his own to give the Wildcats a 68-66 lead with 1:48 to play. Audige finished with just seven points, but five of those came in the second half, including the heroic three-ball.

Ohio State forward Kyle Young tied the score with a hook shot on the next possession but Buie answered with an absolute dagger three to make the score 71-68, a lead the Wildcats didn’t relinquish. Buie finished with 14 points and led the team in assists, dishing out five.

“Everyone thinks we can’t play,” said Buie in the press conference following the game. “We want to show the world what we can do.”

Head Coach Chris Collins’ team will have another chance to do just that in arguably their largest test of the season to date when they take on No. 4 Iowa and perennial National Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza on the road. You can catch broadcasts of every men’s basketball home game here on WNUR Sports.