Coming off big loss, Northwestern faces No. 21 Ohio State

NCAA Men's Basketball

Northwestern has a chance to move past an epic second-half collapse when the Wildcats travel to Columbus to play No. 21 Ohio State on Wednesday.

The Wildcats (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) were riding high after defeating the visiting Buckeyes on Dec. 26 for a 3-0 conference mark.

Since then, Northwestern has lost three straight, most recently surrendering a 15-point halftime lead vs. visiting Illinois on Thursday. The Wildcats were outscored 53-13 in the second half while shooting 2 of 24 from the field, leading to an 81-56 defeat.

According to STATS, Illini is the only Division I team in the past 25 seasons to trail by 15-plus at the half and win by 20 or more.

“We’ve shown at times that we are a phenomenal basketball team, playing together,” Northwestern forward Robbie Beran said. “We just need to regroup and play the right way, like we’ve known how to play.”

A major conference school has not been outscored by 40 points in a half since Kentucky was 43 points better in the second half vs. Vanderbilt on March 5, 2003.

It was shocking in that Northwestern had a 20-6 run en route to a 43-28 halftime lead.

“We thought we had a good stranglehold of the game,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “It just really got away from us in a big way in the second half. Once we lost our lead, we lost our poise.”

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they will face a team capable of turning the screws quickly, as Illinois did. The Buckeyes produced a 22-4 burst while building a 42-30 halftime lead at Rutgers on Saturday, and Ohio State won 79-68.

It was similar to Ohio State (9-3, 3-3) overcoming a 16-point deficit with 15 minutes remaining for an 80-68 victory over the Scarlet Knights on Dec. 23.

The key in each instance was winning the battles for loose balls and rebounds.

“Being the more physical, tough team is going to get you a lot of 50/50 balls,” Ohio State forward Kyle Young said. “It’s a lot of the small things that you could build that reputation around.”

On Saturday, Ohio State guard CJ Walker missed the first of what is expected to be multiple games due to torn ligaments in his right hand. His replacement, Jimmy Sotos, had six points and four assists in 28 minutes but exited with less than four minutes remaining holding his right shoulder after a collision.

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said on his radio show Monday that Sotos would be a game-time decision Wednesday.

“He really was critical in getting us off to a great start and also played well throughout the guts of the game,” Holtmann said.

The Buckeyes showed their depth vs. Rutgers with four players scoring in double figures. Duane Washington Jr. led the way with 17 points but committed a team-high four turnovers.

“I love coaching him, but he’s going to send me to an early death,” Holtmann joked. “He brings joy to playing and brings a great spirit to playing the game and competing. Got a lot of confidence in what he can be, but no question he’s taken years off my life.”

–Field Level Media

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