Cody Cousino / Asst. multimedia editor
EVANSTON, Ill. — One more Northwestern basket and the roof may have blown off the building at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill., on Saturday night.
Fortunately for the No. 1-ranked Ohio State men’s basketball team, that basket never came after OSU freshman forward Jared Sullinger hit one of two free throws with 3.5 seconds to play, putting the Buckeyes (22-0, 9-0) one point above the feisty Wildcats (13-8, 3-7).
The Buckeyes held on for those final seconds to win the game, 58-57.
“We’re just happy to come out with the win,” said freshman point guard Aaron Craft. “Anytime you can go on the road, no matter who you’re playing in the Big Ten, it’s always good to come out with a win.”
It was a game of runs for Northwestern.
In the first half, Craft took matters into his own hands to halt an 8-0 Wildcat run. He scored eight of the Buckeyes’ final 10 points to end the first half, stopping the bleeding and providing OSU with a 27-25 halftime lead.
The second half featured a much more threatening Wildcat run.
The Buckeyes began to buck their shaky start in the second half. A seemingly rejuvenated OSU team appeared from the visitors’ locker room and built a 13-point lead nearly halfway through the contest’s second stanza.
However, a seven-point Northwestern possession coupled with a three-point shooting clinic by the Northwestern back court quickly evaporated OSU’s lead.
“I think I saw a seven-point play in one possession. I don’t know if I have ever seen that before, but I thought that was a huge momentum shift for them,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “Our guys made the big plays down the stretch, and I told them, ‘We got what we came for.'”
Knotted at 57 with 3.5 seconds to play, Sullinger iced the game for the Buckeyes when he split a pair of free throws. Northwestern attempted — and narrowly missed — a halfcourt heave at the buzzer.
Surrounded by the deafening screams of thousands of Wildcat fans, Sullinger said it was one voice that helped him drain the game-winning free throw.
“I heard my dad’s voice in my head,” he said. “‘One smooth movement,’ in his loud, booming voice — and it was there.”
It was Sullinger who carried much of the load for the Buckeyes in the second half with 11 points. Senior guard Michael Thompson led the way for the Wildcats with 13.
For Northwestern, playing without its leading scorer, junior forward John Shurna, proved costly. Shurna was out with a concussion he suffered in the team’s previous loss to Minnesota.
Sullinger led the OSU scoring attack with 21 points and eight rebounds, and Craft added 13 points of his own. Thompson led the Wildcats with 16.
Following the narrow victory, Craft said the Buckeyes have to focus on their next game.
“You go on the road in the Big Ten, get a win and then it’s on to the next game,” he said. “We have to correct the things we did wrong tonight. Go back, watch some film and we have a decent layover here before we play Michigan, so we’ll be ready to play them at home.”
The Buckeyes return to the hardwood Thursday to take on rival Michigan at 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.