Ohio State is brimming with confidence, having won back-to-back games over ranked opponents and improved its record in Columbus to 11-0. The Buckeyes’ home winning streak over Northwestern is considerably longer, but they’re not about to take the Wildcats lightly.
No. 21 Ohio State looks to build on its two impressive victories Tuesday night with its 27th straight home win over Northwestern, which is coming off an upset of a top 10 opponent.
After losing three of their first four games in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes (13-5, 3-3) appear to have found their rhythm. They followed up last Tuesday’s 70-66 win at then-No. 6 Purdue with a 60-51 home win over then-No. 13 Wisconsin on Saturday.
“To beat two Top 25 teams this week, I hope it gets us heading in the right direction,” coach Thad Matta said.
The return of Evan Turner is a big reason Ohio State has turned things around and is back in the poll for the first time since Dec. 28.
Turner, who missed a month after breaking bones in his back while dunking in a win over Eastern Michigan on Dec. 5, had 15 points in 26 minutes Saturday, his fourth game back. The Buckeyes improved to 10-2 with Turner in the lineup after splitting the six games he missed.
“This is just a good week because we played to our potential,” said Turner, who averages team bests of 18.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists. “We showed some toughness and we got the job done. It’s nothing new. We had some bumps in the road and we got back to what we’re supposed to do.”
The Buckeyes have another game against a ranked opponent coming Saturday when they visit No. 11 West Virginia, but first they’ll host Northwestern, which was No. 25 in the Dec. 28 poll, its first appearance in the rankings since January 1969.
Like Ohio State, the Wildcats (13-4, 2-3) got off to a slow start in conference play, losing their first two, but they’ve won three of four since, including Saturday’s 72-64 victory over the Boilermakers.
Michael Thompson had a team-high 20 points, while freshman Drew Crawford hit two clutch 3-pointers and made a three-point play in the final seven minutes for Northwestern, which notched its first home victory over a team ranked as high as sixth since 1979, when it defeated then-No. 4 Michigan State 83-65.
Although it was a monumental win for the Wildcats, the only team from a BCS conference to never play in the NCAA tournament, coach Bill Carmody is trying to keep things in perspective.
“We still have to play Ohio State on Tuesday,” he said. “You enjoy it, get what you can from it. I’m really proud of the guys.”
And Carmody knows playing at Ohio State hasn’t been easy for his team. The Wildcats have lost 26 straight games in Columbus since an 83-72 win on Feb. 24, 1977. Northwestern has also lost 18 of the last 19 meetings overall, but that lone win came last season.
Northwestern defeated Ohio State 72-69 on Feb. 18 on Jon Shurna’s 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds remaining. Just over two weeks later, the Wildcats lost the rematch in Columbus 52-47.
Shurna averaged 7.3 points as a freshman last season, but he has emerged as one of the leaders for Northwestern this year, averaging team highs of 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds. The 6-foot-8 forward helped the Wildcats outrebound Purdue 42-23 on Saturday.