Pat Brennan / Sports editor
Ohio State’s men’s basketball sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, with the aid of senior guard William Buford, started Big Ten conference play on the right foot Wednesday.
The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes (13-1, 1-0) topped Northwestern (10-3, 0-1), 87-54, at the Schottenstein Center in the teams’ Big Ten opener.
Sullinger notched a double-double, with 17 points and 14 rebounds. However, it was Buford who ignited OSU’s offense, leading all scorers with 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including a sizzling 5-of-7 from behind the arc.
“I just let the game come to me, but stay on top of it at the same time,” Buford said. “I didn’t want to take too many bad shots, which I have a tendency to do, but just let the game come to me.”
OSU finished the game shooting 50-percent from deep, burying 10-of-20 3-point attempts.
Coming into Wednesday’s contest, OSU had only connected on 33 percent of 3-point tries on the season.
“We were saving it,” OSU head coach Thad Matta said. “We’ve shot the ball more with this team than any other, and we’ve been hard on them in practice, getting them to understand what is and is not a good shot. We are starting to value shots and possessions more.”
Sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas also chipped in with 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting and added five rebounds.
The Big Ten’s two leading scorers, Northwestern’s John Shurna (averaging 19.4 points per game) and Drew Crawford (averaging 18.1 points per game) were held to 11 and 13 points, respectively.
Sullinger, who has been battling a left-foot bone bruise, scored four of OSU’s first five points in the game, and the Buckeyes led Northwestern, 7-2, with 16:34 left in the first half.
“Everything is starting to get back,” Sullinger said about his injuries. “The timing is back and playing as a team is the most important. I’m trying to get my legs under me and get ready for this Big Ten battle.”
The Wildcats battled back and led OSU, 8-7, with 14:57 left in the first.
The Wildcats’ Davide Curletti nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game at 13-13 with 12:17 left to go in the half, but Northwestern never threatened again.
OSU opened up a 13-0 run, led by 3-pointers from Buford and sophomore guard Jordan Sibert. The Buckeyes ended the half on a 34-18 run, spurred by 7-of-14 shooting from behind the arc, to take a 41-26 lead into the locker room.
“(OSU) shot very well,” said Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody. “I know (William) Buford’s a very good player. (Jordan) Sibert hit us with 3’s in that stretch in the first half and that really hurt us.”
Buford, who nabbed seven first-half rebounds, led all scorers in the half with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-4 on 3-pointers. Sullinger, who nailed a 3-pointer of his own, had nine points at the break, with eight rebounds and a block.
Crawford and Shurna were limited to 3 and 7 points in the first half, respectively.
Northwestern cut OSU’s lead early in the second half to 43-31, but the Buckeyes went on a 25-11 run to push the lead back up again to 68-42, and continued to up the margin from there.
Matta began to clear the bench late in the contest, and Buford received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd of 19,049 when he was pulled from the game with 4:46 to play.
OSU finished the game 29-of-61 from the field for 48 percent shooting and held Northwestern to only 32 percent on 17-of-53 shooting.
Carmody said his team’s performance went a long way in helping OSU shoot the ball well.
“(Matta) said at the end, when he shook hands, he said, ‘It’s about as good as we can play,'” Carmody said. “We had a lot to do with them playing that way.”
The Buckeyes’ next game is scheduled for Dec. 31 at 6 p.m. at Indiana.