Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Thad Matta’s crew is treading unfamiliar waters.
With losses to No. 4 Michigan and No. 1 Indiana in what was an especially grueling week in already grueling Big Ten basketball, the No. 13 Ohio State men’s basketball team dropped its first pair of back-to-back setbacks in 121 games.
The first defeat came rather admirably in overtime against a Wolverines squad in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The second, an 81-68 defeat to the Hoosiers, was not cut from the same cloth.
The OSU coach compared the week to the sport’s most elite stage.
“Last week was like going to a Final Four potentially,” Matta said.
And while the Buckeyes (17-6, 7-4 Big Ten) aren’t necessarily unnerved from stumbling in that challenge, they are looking to snap that streak against Northwestern. The Buckeyes haven’t lost three in a row since Feb. 14-22, 2009.
History suggests that beating Northwestern should be easy.
The Wildcats (13-11, 4-7 Big Ten) have lost 28 straight meetings in Columbus.
More recent record suggests OSU will have its hands full.
Last season’s Final Four squad needed a last-second shot by former big man Jared Sullinger to squeeze past Northwestern, 75-73.
The year before? The then-often No. 1-ranked Buckeyes beat the Wildcats twice by a combined seven points. First came a 58-57 squeaker in Evanston, Ill. The next was a 67-61 overtime thriller during the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
OSU junior guard Aaron Craft explained the Wildcats’ knack for hanging against teams seemingly superior in three words.
“Style of play,” he said. “I think their style of play gets them in every game.
“A couple times, they’ve gotten a ton of offensive rebounds and then they hold the ball for another 30 seconds and then get an easy look. You know, all it takes is one mistake throughout a whole possession and then they get an easy layup or an easy shot.”
Matta said it’s the kind of game plan that balances any athletic disparity between the teams.
“I think they’ve always had the great equalizer and that being the 3-point shot,” Matta said.
Out of Northwestern’s 1,246 field goals attempted, 42 percent of them have been heaves from behind the arc. That’s 524 shots.
For reference, the Buckeyes, which have attempted 1,292 tries from the floor, have attempted 398 shots (31 percent) from the 3-point line.
Against the Hoosiers, OSU surrendered 7 of 18 3-pointers en route to one of its most decisive defeats of the year.
But sophomore center Amir Williams isn’t trying to wallow in that fact.
The team’s focus, he said, is on the Wildcats.
“Northwestern is a dangerous team with their style of offense … we can’t dwell on the past,” he said. “We know we played bad against Indiana. We just got to play much better tomorrow night.”
For all intents and purposes, Thursday’s 7 p.m. tip at the Schottenstein Center might be a chess match, Craft said.
“It’s a big thinking game,” Craft said. “It’s a big kind of concentration and patience game.”