COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State avoided a notable upset Thursday, holding off unranked Northwestern for a 69-59 victory.
The 13th-ranked Buckeyes (18-6, 8-4 Big Ten) trailed the Wildcats (13-12, 4-8) by four points with seven minutes to play. The tension was high inside Value City Arena, where Ohio State has never lost to Northwestern.
Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas helped the Buckeyes pull away with a game-ending 22-8 run. Thomas scored 17 of his game-high 22 points in that span, and Craft hit a tricky layup to give Ohio State a 61-57 lead with 1:50 to play.
Thomas connected on two free throws, and Ohio State sophomore Sam Thompson threw down back-to-back dunks following missed 3-pointers by Northwestern in the final 48 seconds of the game.
It's been more than three decades since the Wildcats were victorious in Columbus, but that almost changed Thursday as Northwestern hit shot after shot from behind the arc. That included a 40-foot shot from freshman Tre Demps at the halftime buzzer to tie the game at 30.
Demps finished with a team-high 16 points, one of four players in double-figures for a Northwestern team that was playing without seniors Drew Crawford (shoulder surgery) and Jared Swopshire (knee surgery).
Northwestern freshman Kale Abrahamson also connected on three shots from behind the arc and finished with 13 points.
Senior Reggie Hearn added 12 points for the Wildcats, and sophomore Dave Sobolewski chipped in with 10 as Northwestern stayed in the game for most of the night with hot outside shooting.
The Wildcats hit 11 of 26 3-pointers, including a number of off-balance and sometimes contested shots from long range. They misfired on the last four over the final 1:35 of the game.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored all 12 of his points in the first half for Ohio State, while center Amir Williams added 10 points and eight rebounds. Thompson finished with 11 points, and Craft tallied seven points, six assists, three steals and three rebounds.
After trailing for much of the first half, the Buckeyes took a 28-27 lead on three from Smith with just over two minutes to play in the half. Williams added an emphatic dunk in traffic to push Ohio State's lead to three, at 30-27, but the Buckeyes failed to defend Demps out near half-court on the final possession of the first half.
His desperation heave bounced off back iron high into the air and dropped straight through the cylinder, giving the San Antonio native three of his eight points in the first half.
Hearn led Northwestern with 10 first-half points, as the Wildcats shot 50 percent from the floor and 43 percent from behind the arc.
Smith led the way for Ohio State with 12 points in the first half, but no one else on the team had more than five. Williams produced five points and five rebounds, but Thomas, the leading scorer in the Big Ten this season, was just 2-for-8 for five first-half points. He played only 15 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
NOTES: With his three steals, Craft tied Kendall Gill and Titus Ivory for eighth place on the Big Ten's all-time list. His 218 career steals are the most in school history. He needs 13 more to pass Dee Brown for seventh place. ... Ohio State has won 18 of the past 19 overall meetings with Northwestern, including each of the past seven. ... When ranked, Buckeyes are 35-2 against the Wildcats, including a 75-73 win in Evanston last March.