COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State avoided what would have been a notable upset Thursday, holding off unranked Northwestern for a 69-59 victory.
The 13th-ranked Buckeyes trailed the Wildcats by four points with seven minutes to play. The tension was high inside Value City Arena, where Ohio State has never lost to Northwestern. It's been more than three decades since the Wildcats were victorious in Columbus.
Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas helped the Buckeyes (18-6, 8-4 Big Ten) pull away with a game-ending 22-8 run. Thomas scored 15 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 really took over at the end of the game," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "In the last 10 minutes, we couldn't keep the ball away from him. He made plays that good players make."
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.
"We played well for 39 minutes," Carmody added. "We had some good looks in those last 90 seconds. We just weren't able to knock them down."
Northwestern (13-12, 4-8) chased the upset by hitting 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.
"I give a lot of credit to Northwestern," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "They made shots that were difficult, and in the first half we weren't challenging baskets, which we paid for."
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 as Ohio State went on a 12-0 run.
"We were talking about getting consecutive stops," Craft said, "just trying to push the ball before they could set up their zone."
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 a 3-pointer 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 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.
Both teams wound up hitting 46 percent of their shots, but Ohio State prevailed thanks to a 41-21 rebounding advantage.
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 Ohio State history. He needs 13 more to pass Dee Brown for seventh place. ... The Buckeyes have won 18 of the past 19 overall meetings with Northwestern, including each of the past seven. ... The Buckeyes are 10-0 vs. the Wildcats at Value City Arena. They have won the past 29 games in the series played on Ohio State's home floor. ... With his 22 points, Thomas (1,382) moved into 25th place on Ohio State's all-time scoring list. He needs three points to pass Brian Brown for 24th.