Northwestern coach Chris Collins estimated somewhere around 15,000 days since the Wildcats came into Columbus and beat Ohio State. Collins was nearly three years old, and said he was probably running around the Philadelphia 76ers locker room where his dad, Doug Collins, played.
Jimmy Carter was president, gas cost 65 cents and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s “Blinded by the Light” was Billboard’s No. 1 song on Feb. 24, 1977 — not to mention OSU played in a different arena.
On Sunday, the Wildcats were singing the sweet melody of victory after beating the Buckeyes 74-72 for the first time in 40 years. Collins said that his team sets goals that other teams aren’t able to accomplish. Winning in Columbus was one of them.
“Just really really proud of our guys today to win this game. We knew coming in Ohio State was playing their best basketball,” he said. “It’s been no secret. This has kind of been a house of horrors to us for a long time.”
So just how did Northwestern do something they hadn’t done in almost half a century? The Wildcats didn’t shoot particularly well (38 percent), they were outrebounded by OSU (40 to 39), and the Buckeyes had more second chance points (16 to 11) despite having three less offensive rebounds than the Wildcats. Collins said the difference was turnovers and clutch plays down the stretch.
The Wildcats led 63-62 with 1:19 remaining. They increased that lead to seven with six straight free throws. But OSU didn’t let up and roll over. Sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle hit a 3, freshman center Micah Potter buried a triple, then senior forward Marc Loving had the chance to complete a 3-point play off a tip in. Loving missed his free throw at 72-70 that would have cut the deficit to one.
Northwestern’s leading scorer Scottie Lindsey sealed the game with two free throws to put the margin at two scores. He led the team with 21. Bryant McIntosh added 17 and five late free throws.
The Wildcats didn’t commit a single turnover in the final two minutes and 41 seconds of the game and converted 11-of-12 foul shots.
“We had to keep getting the ball in bounds, we had to keep taking care of it and we had to keep making free throws and that’s what we did,” Collins said.
Northwestern scored 17 points off 13 turnovers compared to six points off eight turnovers for the Buckeyes.
Collins and his team had a little extra support in the crowd of 13,369 at the Schottenstein Center with Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald. Collins said Fitzgerald is an example of what his mission is as the basketball coach. Northwestern has never made an NCAA tournament in the 40 years between wins in Columbus, or the 38 years before that. (Northwestern hosted the first NCAA tournament national championship).
“We’ve become really close friends,” Collins said of Fitzgerald. “To see him back there rooting us on, it means a lot to me because in my opinion, he is Northwestern. When I think of Northwestern that’s who I think of. I think of Fitz.”
March is a long ways away, but the Wildcats have to feel good about sitting at 16-4 overall, 5-2 in the Big Ten. If it truly is Northwestern’s season to make the field of 68, Sunday was a telltale sign that this Northwestern team is different than those of years past.
Collins dispelled any talk of the NCAA tournament, citing 11 more league games to play. But OSU coach Thad Matta was quite frank.
“I think this is honestly the best Northwestern team I’ve coached against,” Matta said.