EVANSTON, Ill. – Jared Sullinger hit the second of two free throws with 3.5 seconds left Saturday night and No. 1 Ohio State overcame a furious rally by Northwestern to beat the Wildcats 58-57 — the unbeaten Buckeyes' 22nd straight victory.
Sullinger finished with 21 points and Aaron Craft had 13 points for Ohio State.
Leading by only two at the half, Ohio State (22-0, 9-0 Big Ten) pulled out to a 13-point lead in the second half. But Northwestern, playing without leading scorer John Shurna, who has a concussion, came back behind senior guard Michael Thompson, who led the Wildcats with 16 points — 13 in the second half.
Thompson's 3-pointer with 3:51 left capped a 21-7 run as the Wildcats took a 55-54 lead and the crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena erupted.
Seconds later, Ohio State's Jon Diebler — No. 5 all-time in the Big Ten in 3-pointers made — hit one for his first basket of the game to put the Buckeyes right back in front 57-55.
Thompson then sailed through the lane and the 5-foot-10 guard floated the ball into the basket for a tie with 1:31 left.
After an Ohio State turnover and then a foul, Northwestern retained possession and tried to set up a go-ahead shot. But Ohio State's David Lighty stole a pass with 17 seconds to go.
The Buckeyes got the ball to their freshman star Sullinger and he was fouled with 3.5 seconds left. His first attempt hit the front of the rim as Northwestern's student section waived, screamed and tried to distract him from under the basket. He then swished the second for a 58-57 Buckeyes' lead.
Following three timeouts, Drew Crawford's long attempt from just over the midcourt line hit the backboard and Ohio State had pulled out the tough victory.
Northwestern (13-8, 3-7) is now 0-16 all-time playing top-ranked teams.
Thompson's 3-pointer with 7:53 left cut the lead to nine, and Ohio State's Dallas Lauderdale was called for an intentional foul on the play near the basket. Davide Curletti made 1 of 2 free throws and the Wildcats retained possession with JerShon Cobb hitting a 3-pointer. The seven-point possession made it 51-46 with just a little more than seven minutes remaining and got Northwestern back in the game.
Northwestern won the boards, despite the absence of the 6-8 Shurna, 31-20 and had 14 on the offensive end. Ohio State shot 57 percent for the game and Sullinger was 7 for 12 from the field.
The Buckeyes have now matched the second longest winning streak in school history.
In 2006-07 Ohio State also won 22 straight, counting tournament games, before losing in the NCAA championship game. The 1961-62 team was victorious in its first 22 games. The longest Buckeyes win streak was 32, spanning two seasons from 1959-60 (last five) to 1960-61 (first 27).