I know, I know...it's only Northwestern, but nonetheless there were some very encouraging signs in Ohio State's 63-49 win over the Wildcats Wednesday night. It's a win the Buckeyes desperately needed after losing back to back games last week to Illinois and Michigan State. In those games, the Buckeyes averaged only 50 points and shot 34 percent from the floor and while 63 points isn't exactly an outburst, the way Ohio State executed was refreshing.
Early on the offensive funk continued. Ohio State had only two points seven minutes into the game. The good news was Northwestern only had three. Finally, freshman Duane Washington hit a 3-pointer and then hit another less than two minutes later that seemed to get the Buckeyes going.
Still, at halftime, the numbers weren't great. The Buckeyes led by four but scored only 24 points, had more turnovers (7) than assists (6) and were shooting only 37 percent from the floor....but then--the second half happened.
The Buckeyes played as well offensively as they have in weeks. The ball movement was outstanding as Ohio State had 12 assists on its 16 made baskets and turned the ball over only once while shooting 53% from the floor. The 12 second half assists were more than the Buckeyes have had in eight of their entire games during Big Ten play. Overall, the 18 assists for the game were a Big Ten high and the most for the Buckeyes since their win over High Point in December.
"We ran a few different things in the second half than in the first half but really that's the players who deserve the credit for that," Coach Chris Holtmann said. "I thought they made really good decisions with the ball."
Maybe the best ball movement possession of the night came in the final minutes of the first half, when Washington bounced a baseline pass to Kaleb Wesson, who hit a cutting Keyshawn Woods, who quickly returned the pass to Wesson for a reverse dunk. Check it out below...It was pretty basketball.
Wesson had a big night, with 22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and only 1 foul. His ability to stay out of foul trouble allowed him to play 33 minutes--a team high and the Buckeyes outscored Northwestern by 14 points with Kaleb on the floor.
While Wesson was the only Buckeye in double figures, he was far from a one man show, as Ohio State got contributions up and down the roster. The bench combined for 27 points led by Washington and Kyle Young who each scored 8 and Woods who had 7. Freshman Justin Ahrens, who rarely plays, started the second half and in his seven minutes on the floor, he went 2-2 from the floor, had 2 rebounds and an assist. Holtmann said Ahrens earned the second half starting nod based on his spirit on the bench in the first half.
"When you're a coach and you see a guy who hasn't played a whole lot and he's engaged in the game, what he's telling you is 'Hey, I'm fully invested in what we're doing right now," Holtmann said. "When it's February, you want dudes that are fully invested in what you're doing...That's what you're looking for."
Does any of this mean the Buckeyes will go to Maryland Saturday and find a way to beat a ranked team for the first time this season? Who knows, but for a team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life, the performance against Northwestern was clearly a step in the right direction. Here's a couple more examples from an encouraging night of Buckeye hoops.