COLUMBUS — Junior guard Duane Washington scored a career-high 23 points against Northwestern as Ohio State used a 12-0 run in the game’s final minutes to secure an 81-71 victory over the Wildcats (6-5, 3-4) Wednesday night, moving the No. 21 Buckeyes to 10-3 on the season and 4-3 in conference play.
Ohio State led for most of the game and all of the second half, but what was once a 12-point lead in the second half was cut to just one point thanks to a 14-3 run by Northwestern. With Ohio State leading 67-66, guard Justin Ahrens finally stopped the bleeding with a three-pointer which sparked the aforementioned 12-0 run for the Buckeyes to finally put this one away.
Duane Washington had one of his worst games as a Buckeye the last time these two teams met, but bounced back with one of his best in OSU’s win Wednesday night. The first meeting occurred the day after Christmas and Washington’s stocking was still chockfull of coal as he scored just seven points on 1-of-9 shooting in OSU’s 71-70 loss. Wednesday night, however, he scored a career-high 23 points and handed out six assists with just one turnover in 36 minutes. He showed outstanding decision making down the stretch both passing and finishing.
Forward Justice Sueing got some time at point guard for the Buckeyes on the night. With Ohio State missing their top two point guards, head coach Chris Holtmann put the ball in Sueing’s hand as he used to do with former Buckeye forward Jae’Sean Tate. While the assists may not have flowed like wine, Sueing did steal some minutes for an Ohio State backcourt that is rather thin at the moment. The good news for OSU is that Sueing wasn’t so preoccupied with his increased duties that he let it affect his scoring. In fact, it may have helped him remain aggressive. Sueing scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and handed out an assist while also grabbing seven rebounds. He only turned the ball over once.
Freshman guard Meechie Johnson saw action for the second time in his career Wednesday night. Johnson made his Buckeye debut in Saturday’s win at Rutgers with four minutes of action, but he did not record any statistics. He changed that against Northwestern, hitting his first two three-point attempts, scoring six points in his 11 minutes of playing time. He also added in a rebound, an assist, a turnover, and a personal foul. Johnson never looked overwhelmed by the moment, but his backcourt mates did a great job of helping him out and communicating with him throughout the game. Johnson did some communicating of his own, however, with some of it directed at Northwestern following a made three-pointer.
Guard Justin Ahrens got the start for the Buckeyes and scored 12 points, hitting four of his five three-point attempts. He played 23 minutes and provided offense when the Buckeyes needed it, scoring six points in each half. The defense wasn’t always on point, but he made up for it by being a significant scoring threat and hitting the biggest shot of his career when his team needed it most. Leading 67-66 and following a 7-0 Northwestern run, Ahrens drained a three-pointer with 3:55 to play in the game, sparking OSU’s 12-0 run that made this game much less closer than it was.
The Box Score
— Northwestern played with tremendous competitive spirit tonight. The Buckeyes responded well. “This is the most proud I’ve been of our group.” Northwestern had a week to prepare. This was a tough matchup. “Players win games, and the plays our guys made down the stretch, starting with Justin’s three were just critical.”
— “I just thought we had to be tough and smart down the stretch.” The game was never out of reach for Northwestern and they made plays. The Buckeyes responded with great poise down the stretch. “That’s why I’m so proud of them.”
— Duane Washington is playing well and really growing. “Good. I like him.”
— Meechie Johnson had some terrific minutes. “So happy for him. I can’t overstate how hard that is to do what he’s doing right now. Just tremendous.”
— Duane Washington’s decision making late in the game was great.
— “As a coaching staff we’re learning about this group.”
— The challenge with Meechie Johnson as a coach is to not overwhelm him. He comes in midseason in the toughest conference in the country and play the most important position in basketball. And play defense. And don’t overthink things and just play. That’s a lot to ask. It says a lot about the kind of man he is. “He’s also fearless as a player. We knew that when we recruited him.”
— EJ Liddel was bothered a little bit by their traps. He’ll be fine. He grabbed 10 rebounds. He is now highlighted on opposing scouting reports, so that’s an adjustment period for anybody to go through. “He’s just got to continue to work.”
— On Meechie Johnson: “I love his competitive spirit. If he gets a technical foul, I don’t love that.” Holtmann told him that as well. But he loves the competitive spirit.
— Meechie Johnson deserves a lot of credit for how attentive he has been as a Buckeye.
— He started Justin Ahrens because he felt they needed shooting out on the floor. “He got exposed some on defense,” but he hit one of the biggest shots of the game and “I thought he had a great night.”
— “Duane was tremendous.” “I love him and I love coaching him.” He has been consistent and efficient in these last string of games and when that happens “he is a very good player when he plays like that.” He has really committed himself to improving in that area. His decision making in the last four minutes probably won the game for them.
— Justin Ahrens hit the biggest shot of his career “so far.” The timing, the scope of it, and what it meant to stopping Northwestern’s run and momentum.
— Justice Sueing is a bit unsung in all of this. He was forced into the position of playing PG and he did a really nice job. He’s become committed to being a more complete player. He continues to make strides.
— Ballhandling is a bit of an issue without CJ Walker and Jimmy Sotos, but Justice Sueing can handle it and knows the offense. They began to do that in practice early on when they lost Abel Porter. They had it in the back of their minds because they knew it was a lot to ask of Duane Washington. “He’s done a good job with it.”
— They will know more day-by-day with Jimmy Sotos. “We don’t know how long he’s going to be out at this point” with his shoulder injury. It will be game-by-game. They have to make sure he’s medically cleared.
— Families were in the stands. “The best thing for me tonight, 1a the win; 1b having the families here.” You just love to see the families getting an opportunity to watch their sons. “It makes me feel really good. I really appreciated everything that’s been done to have our families here.
— Northwestern started getting more aggressive over the game’s final 10 minutes, but the Buckeyes regrouped for the final 4-minute war and they reestablished their own aggression.
— He has anticipated Justice Sueing getting some minutes at point guard because he worked out with him in the offseason and saw how well he can handle the ball.
— Duane Washington is taking good shots and taking good care of the ball. He is getting better and better regarding his control of the game.
— This is a next man up situation every week. That’s the way it is for everyone this year. Everybody has bought in and worked hard in practice. “When you’re number is called, you’ve got to be ready to go.”
— When this team is playing hard, it creates chemistry and confidence in each other.
— Ahrens told Duane Washington after Meechie Johnson’s second three that he’s gonna be nice. He wasn’t too scared to let those shots fly. “I’m excited for him.”
— He had to learn PG pretty quick. The coaches and team have confidence in him and let him play his game. He was familiar with the plays so it wasn’t too hard.
— The main thing was just making sure he remembered the plays and got everyone involved. Also not running to the boards and instead staying back on defense to keep from giving up transition baskets.
— Meechie Johnson is full of confidence “and we love that about him.” Being a point guard, he has to be confident and be able to lead. He’s learning right now and taking what everybody is giving him. He’s getting more comfortable and will continue to get more confident.
— He relishes the opportunity to help in different ways and do different things. The staff and the teammates made him comfortable in practice and directed him on what to do in preparation for tonight.
— As a PG he has to take in the advice from coaches and teammates, but the other half is playing off of instincts.
— Jimmy Sotos and CJ Walker’s best advice was to keep calm and make the right reads.
— He practiced a little bit at PG at the beginning of the year, but not since until this past week.
— This was the first time in his basketball career that he was a primary ballhandler.
— It wasn’t that different defending as a point guard because this team is so versatile defensively that it’s nothing new for anybody to be matched up with different positions.
[Header photo courtesy of the Ohio State Dept. of Athletics.]