It was a familiar tale at Welsh-Ryan Arena Thursday night: close, but not enough.
After trailing Ohio State by as many as 12 points, Northwestern fought back in a high-intensity second half. They’d gotten unexpected contributions from freshmen Kale Abrahamson and Alex Olah. And who else but Reggie Hearn, free off an inbounds play, would knock down a three to give Northwestern a 49-48 lead.
But red-hot Lenzelle Smith Jr. answered with a long-ball of his own. Northwestern (13-16) would never recover, turning the ball over on three consecutive possessions and losing much of their momentum. Ohio State (21-7) held on to win, 63-53.
“We weren’t able to make plays,” said Carmody. “Their defense anticipated some stuff. [They turned] steals into fast breaks and runouts on the other end. We just turned it over a few times, at the wrong time.”
Down the stretch, Smith Jr. and Shannon Scott came up with two of those crucial steals and had given the Wildcats fits all night, combining for seven out of the team’s 10 total. The Buckeyes turned up their play on the defensive end, and Northwestern simply couldn’t recover.
“They had a pretty good understanding [defensively] at that point,” said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta. “They made some great reads, and Deshaun was giving those guys confidence because he knew where he needed to be.”
Smith and Thomas, who finished with 24 and 19 points respectively, carried the load offensively for Ohio State. In the first half, it was Smith’s four three-pointers that stretched Northwestern’s 2-3 zone. Thomas dominated in the second, operating in newfound space down low.
“Lenzelle was able to stretch the defense tonight and that was something we needed,” said Matta. “We were trying to pick the pace up as much as we could.”
The Wildcats still managed to hang around, matching Ohio State at 30 rebounds, shooting 9-9 from the foul line and banging in 8 threes. But an uncharacteristic 15 turnovers, nine in the second half proved their undoing.
“The turnovers really hurt,” said Carmody. “That really makes a difference. I thought we were doing a pretty decent job on the glass. For the most part, we got the shots that we wanted. But you have nine turnovers in [the second] half, that hurts you.”
Tre Demps led Northwestern with 14 points, and Dave Sobolewski added 13. Kale Abrahamson and Alex Olah showed promise scoring nine points each. In one of his best games of the year, Abrahamson led the team with a career-high nine rebounds.
“We hadn’t been playing competitive basketball, it was certainly time,” said Carmody. “I think the effort’s there, guys are trying and I think they’ll get better.”