Even playing one-handed, Greg Oden is proving to be quite a challenge to contain.
The 7-foot-1 freshman tries to build on his best collegiate game as No. 7 Ohio State (14-3, 2-1) hosts Northwestern (10-7, 0-4) in a Big Ten battle Wednesday night.
Oden, still playing with a brace on his shooting hand after surgery during the summer to reattach a ligament in his right wrist, has begun to assert himself on both ends of the floor. The Buckeyes got his best game of the season Saturday and salvaged a split of back-to-back games against ranked opponents.
Oden had 24 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and three blocks as Ohio State defeated then-No. 16 Tennessee 68-66. In addition to the three blocks, Oden altered many others and went 9-for-13 from the field.
“Coach had the mindset we were going to attack them inside,” Oden said. “My teammates did a good job of getting the ball to me in the right spots. It was a dunk from there.”
Without Oden’s contributions, Ron Lewis wouldn’t have had a chance to hit his winning 3-pointer with 11.2 seconds to play. The victory was Ohio State’s first in four tries against a ranked opponent this season following losses to North Carolina, Florida and most recently, Wisconsin on Jan. 9.
“We were 0-3,” Buckeyes guard Jamar Butler said. “We talked about getting a win and we finally got one.”
After missing the first seven games due to his surgery, Oden is averaging 14.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.9 blocks while shooting 61.1 percent from the field. He has played 30 or more minutes in his last four games.
Fellow freshman Mike Conley had 16 points as Ohio State won despite matching a season low with just four made 3-pointers. The Buckeyes are shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, with Lewis, Butler, Daequan Cook and Ivan Harris accounting for 136 of the team’s 151 3s.
Northwestern has dropped four in a row and will be trying to regroup from a hard-fought 56-50 home loss to the then-No. 3 Badgers on Saturday. Freshman Jeff Ryan, making his first collegiate start, responded with a season-high 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting as the Wildcats hung tough without leading scorer Kevin Coble, who missed the game with a sprained ankle.
“I thought the matchup was good for him and people would have a hard time staying in front of him,” Wildcats coach Bill Carmody said of starting Ryan. “He got some drives knifing to the basket and I thought it was a pretty good effort on his part.”
Carmody doesn’t expect to have the 6-10 Coble, a senior who averages 12.1 points and a team-high 4.9 rebounds, in the lineup against Ohio State.
“It didn’t seem like that bad a sprain,” Carmody said. “He was having a hard time cutting though. I am not optimistic that he will be available on Wednesday.”
Carmody has yet to defeat the Buckeyes in 10 tries since taking over Northwestern in 2000, but six of those losses have been by single digits. The Wildcats have dropped 16 in a row against top 10 opponents, with the Buckeyes recording two of those victories—including a 56-53 win March 1.
Ohio State has won 13 straight against Northwestern since a 70-62 loss Feb. 21, 1998, and leads the series 107-44. The teams will play again at Northwestern on Feb. 24.