In college basketball, sometimes getting a victory off the court is as important as getting a win on it.
That was the case for the No. 24 Ohio State Buckeyes Wednesday against Northwestern, when the team learned leading scorer junior forward LaQuinton Ross would not be suspended after he was ejected for his involvement in an on-court scuffle in the second half of OSU’s 76-60 win.
After a missed shot, Wildcat redshirt-senior forward Nikola Cerina shoved OSU junior center Amir Williams, causing members from both teams to come to the floor. Ross then shoved Cerina and redshirt-senior forward Drew Crawford, ultimately leading to his ejection.
Cerina was also shown the door upon further review by the officials, and he is set to be suspended for Northwestern’s game against Indiana Saturday.
Lead official Ray Perone said after the game that because Cerina “took a swing with a closed first or closed hand” at Williams, by rule he must be penalized for committing an act of fighting.
“He does not have to make contact — the fact he swings with a closed fist is deemed to be a fighting act,” Perone said in a released statement after OSU’s win.
Perone went on to say since this was the first time Cerina participated in a fight this season, he is only suspended for his team’s next game.
After the game, OSU coach Thad Matta said he would be “shocked” if Ross was suspended, but admitted to not having seen everything that happened.
“It happened so quick,” Matta said. “I saw the guy shove Amir into the basket support and from there it was sort of melee — not melee, that’s a bad term — but just a little bit unorganized if you will.”
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. said after the win Ross apologized to the rest of the team in the locker room and is ready to put the incident behind him.
“He’s ready to move on from it, and (LaQuinton is) a great player and sometimes those situations get the best of you,” Smith Jr. said. “I think he fully understands what he did and what he shouldn’t have done and I think going forward, everything will be all right.”
After the officials sorted out the fouls from the incident, 10 free throws were shot among the two teams, including two each by senior guard Aaron Craft and Williams, making all four. Northwestern redshirt-junior guard JerShon Cobb shot four for the Wildcats, only making two, and freshman forward Nathan Taphorn made one of two to leave the score at 70-53.
Aside from the scuffle, the Buckeyes (21-6, 8-6, fifth in the Big Ten) largely used a late first half run that continued early in the second to stave off the Wildcats (12-15, 5-9, ninth in the Big Ten).
OSU led early, 15-12, after a layup by senior guard Aaron Craft with 11:34 left in the first half. But Northwestern, led by Crawford, went on a 13-1 run to take a 25-16 lead.
OSU stormed back to finish the half on a 21-8 run and took a 37-33 lead into halftime. Ross scored 13 points in the first half on 4-6 shooting, and the Buckeyes shot 9-11 from the free throw line in the game’s opening 20 minutes. Northwestern shot just 1-2 from the line in the first half.
OSU wasted no time extending its lead in the second half, as two free throws by Craft and a 3-pointer by junior forward Sam Thompson within the first minute of play extended the lead to nine.
Thompson’s hot hand continued, as he hit back-to-back jumpers to make the score 49-35 with 16:21 left. He said after the win, the Buckeyes decided enough was enough after the Wildcats got up nine.
“For whatever reason, we woke up. I think they got up seven or nine and we kind of just drew the line,” Thompson said after the game. “And that’s what we talk about needing to do. We talk about having to have that killer instinct to put teams away and I think on both ends of the ball, we did that.”
The lead swelled to 20 after a jump shot by junior guard Shannon Scott with 12:20 left, and the Wildcats only got as close as 16 the rest of the way.
Craft finished with 14 points, passing former Buckeye John Havlicek for 33rd on OSU’s all-time scoring list with 1,232 points.
Before getting ejected, Ross poured in 16 points, a team-high. Smith Jr. finished with 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Crawford led all scorers with 22 points for Northwestern.
Up next, OSU is set to take on Minnesota Saturday at the Schottenstein Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m., and as the Buckeyes head into their last four regular season games, Matta said he’s liking what he’s seeing.
“I like the direction we’re heading. I think in February, we’ve lost one time. This is historically when we’ve tried to play our best basketball,” Matta said. “Just who knows what’s going to happen every time you take the floor. And that’s why we’ve done as much as we possibly can to keep the focus on us in terms of us getting better.”
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