COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—For those wondering if No. 12 Ohio State would have trouble recovering from a loss at Wisconsin, the answer was a resounding yes.
Terence Dials had 14 points and 15 rebounds in the Buckeyes’ lethargic 61-52 victory over Northwestern on Saturday.
“We were a little sloppy,” said coach Thad Matta, whose team was playing its third game this week, including a tough loss at Wisconsin on Wednesday night. “We just didn’t have the juice. There was a point where Jamar (Butler) was pushing it up and it’s one-on-five. I knew that wasn’t a good sign.”
The Buckeyes (19-4, 8-4 Big Ten) got off to a plodding start and then survived a second-half lull to win for the 12th consecutive time against the Wildcats. Dials scored eight of Ohio State’s final nine points.
J.J. Sullinger scored 16 points, Ron Lewis added 15 and Butler 12 for the Buckeyes, who came in leading the conference in field-goal shooting at 49 percent but shot just 37 percent on Saturday.
The Buckeyes played without starter Matt Sylvester, who was sidelined with a stiff back.
Mohamed Hachad led Northwestern with 19 points—scoring 15 in a row for the Wildcats (12-12, 4-8) in a second-half surge. Big Ten scoring leader Vedran Vukusic finished with 17 points.
After a listless first half, the Buckeyes got going to start the final 20 minutes. Butler hit a 3-pointer on the first trip down floor and Lewis later added another during a 13-2 run to start the half.
Northwestern managed five points over 16 minutes spanning halftime.
“They just came after us and we weren’t able to handle it,” coach Bill Carmody said. “Their pressure on our guards really bothered us.”
The Wildcats weren’t done. Hachad scored 15 straight Northwestern points— mostly off backcourt steals or on dribble drives in a patient, patterned offense—to pull the Wildcats to 50-48 with 5 1/2 minutes left.
“Then they got some penetration and they started to look for Dials,” Carmody said.
With Ohio State hanging on 52-50, Dials took over, scoring on three consecutive possessions. He hit a turnaround in the lane with 2:34 left, had his shot blocked by Vukusic but scored on the follow, and then had a putback off another offensive rebound with 43 seconds left for a 58-50 lead. He later added two free throws.
“I just continued to hit the offensive glass,” Dials said. “It was just the flow of the game. I happened to be open at times and got the ball.”
The Buckeyes, the league’s best 3-point shooting team, had their worst game of the season behind the arc, hitting just 3-of-23.
“With the exception of J.J. Redick, who’s one of the best I’ve ever seen, shooting is a phenomenon,” Matta said. “We had good shots that we have made before, but they just weren’t going down. We need to continue shooting the ball. We need to stick with it and get our confidence back.”
Northwestern, content to shoot layups or 3s—where it was just 3-of-20— shot two free throws while the Buckeyes were 18-of-30.
The Buckeyes had their worst half—scoring a season-low 21 points—yet still led by a point at the break. They missed their first eight 3-point shots and hit one of their first 14 shots from the field.
Northwestern scored the first nine points while holding the Buckeyes scoreless for the first 5:50 and without a field goal over the opening 8 minutes.
Ohio State closed the half on a 13-3 run, taking its first lead on Lewis’ baseline drive with a minute left. The Buckeyes had some nervous moments, but never trailed again.
“This is the jolt we needed,” Sullinger said. “Coming off a loss, we’re in high spirits right now.”