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Friday, March 11, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Ohio State 67, Wildcats 61

By Scott Powers



INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a quick look at Ohio State’s 67-61 overtime win over Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament’s quarterfinals on Friday.

How the game was won: Ohio State has now broken Northwestern’s heart twice (Ohio State won by one in Evanston), and this time around was especially excruciating. The Wildcats led by three points late in the second half and relinquished the lead to allow overtime. The Buckeyes, especially freshman Jared Sullinger, were dominant in overtime. Ohio State dropped the ball down to Sullinger, and he went to work. He was fouled five times and connected on all 10 of his free throws.

Turning point: Northwestern center Luka Mirkovic was the hero when he drained a wide-open 3-pointer to pull the Wildcats within 56-55 with 3:40 remaining in overtime. At the other end, he changed that status. He fouled Sullinger, threw his mouthpiece to the floor in disgust, was called for a technical and fouled out of the game. Ohio State only capitalized by making two of the four free throws, but his absence on the floor freed up room for Sullinger. Ohio State closed the overtime on an 11-6 run.

Stat of the game: Ohio State was unconscious from 3-point range against Wisconsin in the Big Ten regular-season finale, hitting 14 straight. On Friday, the Buckeyes returned to reality, missing their first seven and shooting 1 for 9 in the opening half. They finished 7 of 21 for the game.

Player of the game: Sullinger wasn’t especially effective scoring inside, but he got to the line and his free-throw shooting decided the game. He sank all 10 of his free throws in overtime and was 16 of 18 for the game. He finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds.

Unsung hero: Aaron Craft plays major minutes for the No. 1 team in the country, but he’s not even the most famous freshman on his own team. But on Friday, Craft was nearly as good as freshman pal Sullinger. Craft scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds off the bench.

Northwestern player of the game: John Shurna looked like the dominant player he was early in the season. He scored a game-high 23 points in the loss.

SportsCenter highlight of the game: Sullinger hasn’t been humbled much this season, but he was during the opening half on Friday. Turning to his right and going up for a layup, Sullinger never saw Shurna approaching from the left. As Sullinger put his shot up, Shurna flew into the picture and swatted Sullinger’s shot out of bounds.

What game means: Ohio State is still the team to beat in the Big Ten tournament. The Buckeyes were sluggish at times Friday, but came through when it mattered most. For Northwestern, this one is tough. Its NCAA tournament hopes were dashed again. The Wildcats have never reached the NCAA tournament and will have to wait at least one more year to achieve that goal. Northwestern graduates four-year starting point guard Michael Thompson, but will return four of its starters. If invited, the Wildcats will play in their third consecutive NIT.