GAME NOTES: The Northwestern Wildcats will try to put the brakes on a three- game slide and win for the first time in the month of February, as they pull into Value City Arena for a Big Ten Conference clash with the 24th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Northwestern dropped a 54-48 decision at home to Minnesota this past Sunday, to fall to 12-14 overall and 5-8 in conference. As mentioned, the Wildcats have now lost three straight and four of their last six overall. A victory tonight would even the team's record in true road games at 5-5.
Prior to the start of Big Ten play, Ohio State had been considered one of the elite teams in the country. Unfortunately, conference action has a way of becoming the great neutralizer, and the Buckeyes have witnessed that first hand by going just 7-6 against their league brethren. They have however, seemingly gotten back on track as wins in four of their last five games, as the team now sits at 20-6 overall.
Ohio State owns a commanding 113-45 lead in the all-time series with Northwestern, and the Buckeyes have won the last eight meetings overall, and the last 29 between the two in Columbus. The Wildcats' last victory on OSU's home court was on Feb. 24, 1977.
Northwestern (60.7 ppg) is one of the more offensively-challenged teams in the nation, ranking 342nd of the 345 teams charted at the Division I level heading into the week. The Wildcats are shooting just 39.6 percent from the field, which includes a 30.8 percent showing from 3-point range, and they are being outrebounded by 3.5 rpg on average. Despite their troubles, NU features three double-digit scorers led by Drew Crawford and his 15.6 ppg. Crawford is also high man on the boards with 6.8 rpg, and he gets help from JerShon Cobb (12.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Tre Demps (10.7 ppg). Defensively, the 'Cats are permitting just 63.3 ppg, with foes shooting 41 percent from the floor and 31.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Once again, the Wildcats had trouble scoring in their recent loss to Minnesota, putting up a meager 48 points at home thanks to a dreadful 30.2 percent shooting effort that saw the squad miss 13 of its 19 3-point tries. Cobb however, had no problem lighting it up as he drained 5-of-7 long-range launches on his way to a game-high 23 points. Alex Olah was the only other Wildcat to reach double figures, netting 10 points, while Crawford (nine boards) grabbed nearly a third of the team's rebounds (30). NU was really only in the game because the Golden Gophers committed 17 turnovers, off which the Wildcats scored 17 points.
Ohio State's defensive effort has been top notch this season, as its 58.5 ppg yield ranks it eighth nationally heading into the week. Foes are shooting just 39.7 percent from the field, which includes a 27.3 percent effort from downtown. Add to that more than an offense that generates 70 ppg and the fact that it forces more than 14 turnovers per outing, and it's easy to see why the team is enjoying a positive run this season. The Buckeyes boast just two double-digit scorers in LaQuinton Ross (14.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (11.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg), but four others net between 7.0 and 9.5 ppg. Aaron Craft (4.6 apg) is a crafty playmaker, and he and Shannon Scott have combined for 122 steals. Center Amir Williams (6.1 rpg, 46 blocks) is a force in the middle.
Ohio State put forth another masterful defensive effort in its last outing, as it topped Illinois on the road, 48-39. While the Buckeyes didn't do much at the offensive end themselves, they held the Illini to 28.3 percent field goal efficiency, allowed them only four free throws, and outscored them in bench points, 17-2. Craft was the only player to score in double figures for OSU, netting 14 points despite coughing the ball up five times. The Buckeyes shot only 38.3 percent from the floor, missing 10 of their 13 3-point attempts along the way.
This should be a low-scoring affair between two teams that certainly know how to tighten the purse strings. The Buckeyes clearly have the better offensive performers, and with the hometown faithful rooting them on, expect them to earn a hard-fought victory.
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