EVANSTON, Ill. (AP)—Greg Oden wanted to create opportunities, and his surgically repaired wrist wasn’t going to stop the freshman. Neither was Northwestern.
Oden had 17 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, and No. 5 Ohio State hung on to beat Northwestern 59-50 on Wednesday night.
“It was a close game,” he said. “Somebody had to make plays.”
Oden, still recovering from surgery on his right wrist last summer, scored 10 points over the final 10:19, after Northwestern’s Tim Doyle hit back-to-back baskets to pull the Wildcats within 39-38. His 17 boards were one more than his previous high, and the Buckeyes outrebounded Northwestern 39-19.
“I thought Vince (Scott) played him as well as he could have,” Doyle said. “Oden’s going to be a pro, and Vince is going to be an investment banker.”
Ivan Harris scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half when Ohio State struggled to a 27-24 lead, but delivered a key basket late in the game. Harris swooped in to rebound Mike Conley’s miss and scored as he hit the floor to make it 55-48 with about 2 minutes left. And Ohio State (17-3, 5-1 Big Ten) hung on for its fourth straight win.
One of the nation’s top recruits, Oden entered Wednesday’s game averaging 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 65 percent, despite a wrist injury he “tries not to think about.”
“He really amazes me everyday with some of the things he can do,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “His length. His timing. He’s got a great feel for when the ball leaves the shooter’s hand. Those were big plays. Sometimes you find yourself saying that guy is pretty special to watch.”
Doyle scored 15 points and Sterling Williams added 11 for Northwestern (11-9, 1-6), which had its sixth loss in seven games.
Ohio State couldn’t break away after beating Northwestern by 32 in Columbus a week earlier.
The Buckeyes built a 36-26 in the opening minutes of the second half as Jamar Butler, Conley and Ron Lewis hit 3-pointers, but the Wildcats hung in.
Northwestern’s Kevin Coble hit a 3-pointer with about 5:30 left to make it 49-46 and had a potential tying 3 rim out on the next possession. With the Buckeyes ahead by five, Doyle leaned in for a hook that made it 51-48 with about 3:40 left. Oden rebounded Lewis’ missed 3-pointer to make it a five-point game.
“Ivan Harris made a whole bunch of big plays,” Oden said. “If they missed, I just tried to get us another chance for somebody else to make more plays.”
Harris carried the Buckeyes in the first half, going 5-of-6 from the field while hitting two of three 3-pointers. Oden took over later.
Back home for the first time since a six-point loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 13, Northwestern grabbed a 20-11 lead early on, with Williams and Scott hitting two 3-pointers apiece and Craig Moore converting one.
That forced Ohio State to scrap its zone and match up on defense, which Northwestern wanted. But the Wildcats cooled off, finishing 9-for-26 on 3-pointers.
Harris started a 12-point run by Ohio State with a turnaround jumper, and hit a 3-pointer that pulled the Buckeyes within 20-18. Oden tied it with dunk and hit the first of two free throws to put them ahead 21-20 with 2:15 left in the half.
Harris got the rebound and scored to make it a three-point game.
Northwestern regained the lead on back-to-back baskets by Doyle, but a four-point play put the Buckeyes back on top with 42 seconds left in the half. As Conley hit a jumper, Harris was fouled away from the ball and converted both free throws to give Ohio State a 27-24 halftime lead.
And Northwestern suffered another conference loss at home, where they’re 0-3 against the Big Ten. They lost by 12 to Michigan on Jan. 6 and traded leads with Wisconsin in the second half.
“What’s the difference in the last 3 1/2 minutes?” coach Bill Carmody wondered. “Is it that we’re too tired? Is it just you can’t get over the hump? And once you do, is it going to be OK? I think there’s something there. What is it we have to get better at? … Why aren’t getting the (loose balls) we have a chance of getting?”