Lenzelle Smith Jr. led all players with a season-high 24 points and shot 6-of-11 from 3-point range as No. 16 Ohio State pulled away late to take a 63-53 decision over Northwestern, on Thursday.
Deshaun Thomas netted 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Buckeyes (21-7, 11-5 Big Ten), who have won three straight and eight consecutive contests in the series versus Northwestern.
"It just makes us a little bit more athletic and Deshaun (Thomas) had a really good idea of what we were trying to do defensively." Ohio State coach Thad Matta said of his team's lineup. "They were packing it in so we weren't getting a ton from that position on the offensive end. Then defensively they were playing, in essence, four guards out there and I just thought we matched really well."
Tre Demps paced Northwestern with 14 points and Dave Sobolewski added 13 for the Wildcats (13-16, 4-12), who have lost six straight and eight of their last nine games overall. Kale Abrahamson donated nine points and nine boards in the defeat.
Reggie Hearn put the Cats ahead by one with a deep trey with just over four minutes remaining. OSU, though, responded with a 9-2 swing which put the contest out of reach for the upset-minded Wildcats.
Smith's triple kicked off the run, then Aaron Craft quickly added to it with a jumper to put the Buckeyes ahead 53-49 with 3:07 remaining. Thomas added four straight OSU points as the contest winded down, sandwiched in between an Alex Olah jumper, but by that point, it was already 57-51 with 1:24 to play.
"I liked the way we battled back and went ahead with different guys contributing," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "We just weren't able to make plays and their defense anticipated some plays and made some steals ... We just turned it over a few times at the wrong times."
Ohio State scored the first four points of the second half, but Northwestern utilized a 12-3 surge to get within 36-34. Around the midway point of the half, Abrahamson's fadeaway 3-pointer made it 41-40 giving the home team its first lead of the contest.
Ohio State jumped out to a 24-13 lead with seven-plus minutes remaining in the first half. The Wildcats, however, closed the gap to 29-22 at the break.
Smith shot lights out in the first 20 minutes of play, and had 14 points on 4- of-5 shooting from behind the arc.
OSU has won 19 of the last 20 games in the series ... NU is 8-10 at home this season ... The Buckeyes won the first meeting on Feb. 14, 69-59 ... The Wildcats shot 9-of-9 from the free throw line compared to 13-of-23 for the Buckeyes ... Both teams only had two players reach double-figures.