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Sullinger propels Buckeyes to overtime victory against Northwestern

Andy Gottesman / Multimedia Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — Moments after missing a free throw that would have given his team the lead with less than a minute remaining in the game, Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger watched his turnaround jumper clank off the side of the rim as the buzzer sounded. Luckily for Sullinger, he had five more minutes to help prevent No. 8-seeded Northwestern from eliminating the No. 1-seeded Buckeyes.

Sullinger scored a team-high 20 points — 10 of which came in overtime — and grabbed 18 rebounds, as the Buckeyes defeated Northwestern, 67-61, in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday.

“Towards the end of the game, they kind of went small, especially in overtime,” Sullinger said. “We started going to me from there, and free throws are just a mentality.”

Sullinger made 16 of his 18 free-throw attempts, with the Buckeyes going 26-for-32 from the line against the Wildcats. OSU’s efficiency from the line helped overcome a 32.2 percent shooting percentage, which tied the Buckeyes’ season low.

The Wildcats played the Buckeyes closely in the first half, leading, 23-19, with three minutes remaining until halftime. A tip-in at the buzzer by OSU freshman point guard Aaron Craft finished off a 9-0 run to close out the half for the Buckeyes.

The Wildcats roared back in the second half, at one point taking a three-point lead on the Buckeyes with less than five minutes remaining.

The Buckeyes managed to take a 51-49 lead on a Sullinger tip-in, before Northwestern sophomore guard Alex Marcotullio’s 3-point shot put the Wildcats back on top.

Going to the line for two free throws with the Buckeyes down by one, Sullinger split the pair, tying the score, 53-53, before missing a turnaround jumper at the buzzer, allowing the game to extend into overtime.

“I didn’t really get deep-post position,” Sullinger said. “There wasn’t enough time to make a move, so the first thing I could think of was a fadeaway jump shot.”

Sullinger made up for his missed free throw and would-be buzzer-beater by making all eight of his free-throw attempts in overtime, and a Jon Diebler 3-point shot put the Buckeyes up by six with three minutes remaining in the game.

The 3-point shots didn’t come easily for the Buckeyes, who, after making an NCAA-record 14 of 15 shots from behind the arc on Sunday against Wisconsin, connected on three of their 15 3-point attempts.

Craft finished the game with 17 points and seven rebounds, and, besides his 20 points, Sullinger pulled down 18 rebounds, one shy of the tournament record.

“Rebounding is something I do,” Sullinger said. “Last time we played Northwestern, they outrebounded us, and I took full responsibility for that.”

Northwestern junior forward John Shurna, who didn’t play in the Buckeyes’ and Wildcats’ Jan. 29 meeting because of a concussion, scored a game-high 23 points. A day after scoring a tournament-record 35 points against Minnesota, Northwestern senior guard Michael Thompson was held by the Buckeye defense to 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting.

With the win, the Buckeyes advance to the tournament’s semifinals, in which they’ll meet the winner of Friday’s matchup between Illinois and Michigan at 1:40 p.m. Saturday.

“Obviously, we’re happy to move on,” Craft said. “Anytime you can do that this time of year, that’s what it all comes down to.”

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