COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—Greg Oden had a new look and a couple of his teammates had a new approach.
Ohio State’s point-guard tandem of Mike Conley Jr. and Jamar Butler showed they could do more than pass in leading the seventh-ranked Buckeyes past Northwestern 73-41 on Wednesday night.
Conley scored a career-high 17 points, Butler added 16 and both had big baskets in the opening half as the Buckeyes (15-3, 3-1 Big Ten) pulled away to continue their home domination of the Wildcats.
“Coach told us to penetrate, attack that middle man and try to make plays,” Conley said of the Buckeyes’ plan to slice through the Wildcats’ 1-3-1 zone defense.
Northwestern (10-8, 0-5) has not won in Columbus since Feb. 24, 1977—a string of 24 consecutive losses on the Buckeyes’ home court.
Othello Hunter added 10 points for the Buckeyes, who have won five of their last six.
Conley had 10 assists—two more than Northwestern.
“They couldn’t trap Mike and Mike made a lot of plays,” Butler said.
Oden—who trimmed the thick beard he sported in his brief collegiate career — finished with five points, six rebounds and five blocked shots.
“He looks faster,” Conley said with a grin of his former high school teammate. “Our old coach says after you get a haircut or shave that you look faster.”
Asked if he knew why Oden trimmed his beard, Conley laughed and said, “He said it was personal reasons.”
The Buckeyes have won the last 14 meetings with Northwestern, dating to 1998.
Craig Moore had 11 points for the Wildcats, who lost their fifth straight. They were coming off a 56-50 loss at home to No. 2 Wisconsin in which they led for much of the game.
“Once they got going, it was too much for us to overcome,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “We were very robotic in the first half. It wasn’t good.”
The Wildcats played without leading scorer Kevin Coble, who missed his second game with a sprained ankle.
Leading 34-15, the Buckeyes opened the second half with a 13-3 run.
The Buckeyes took the lead early and never backed off. Conley and Butler, who have fought through shooting woes in the first half of the season, were both 2-for-2 on 3-pointers and led the Buckeyes with eight points apiece.
Butler scored on an inbounds pass from Conley to give Ohio State the lead for good at 4-2, then hit a 3-pointer the next time down the court. Daequan Cook and Conley then hit shots behind the arc and Hunter made two foul shots to make it 15-4.
“They were open,” Carmody said. “They got shots that they couldn’t pass up. It doesn’t look to me like there are too many big egos on that team.”
Northwestern seemed befuddled on offense, having trouble at the outset against Ohio State’s man-to-man defense and then fighting to get any kind of open shot when the Buckeyes switched to a trapping 2-3 zone. The Wildcats’ two baskets in the opening 8-plus minutes were on steals that led to breakaway layups by Tim Doyle.
“We came out and weren’t expecting to play zone,” Butler said. “Coach told us just before we went out on the floor. It worked for us.”
The Wildcats ended up shooting just 33 percent from the field with 17 turnovers.
“We did a nice job of locating,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “We didn’t plan on playing a lot of zone. They weren’t making shots early, so we stuck with it.”
Oden was not a factor at the offensive end—barely touching the ball—but nearly shook the building off its foundation at the end of the half. Conley dribbled for several seconds before driving the lane and lobbing a blind alley-oop pass that Oden caught high above the rim for a jam that rocked the capacity crowd at Value City Arena.
Many believe that Oden looks at least double his age. Matta was asked how old he thought his big man looked with the trimmed beard.
“He looks like he’s about to turn 19—and he is, in five days,” he said.