If Jared Sullinger had a goal on Wednesday night, it probably had more to do with keeping Ohio State’s Big Ten championship hopes alive than proving to the world that there’s nothing wrong with him.
After scoring 22 points and 18 rebounds – including the game-winning shot with 3.1 seconds remaining – to lead the No. 10 Buckeyes to the 75-73 win over Northwestern in Welsh-Ryan Arena, the sophomore All-America big man likely accomplished both.
Now the Buckeyes (24-6, 12-5 Big Ten) will play at Michigan State on Sunday with a share of their third straight conference championship on the line. The Spartans had a chance to clinch the outright conference title Tuesday, but fell at Indiana.
Deshaun Thomas had 19 points and 10 rebounds and Aaron Craft had 14 points and four assists for Ohio State. The Buckeyes, however, took full advantage of their superior size in outrebounding the Wildcats 41-17 to earn the win.
Northwestern used an 8-0 run that as capped by a three by Alex Marcotullio to tie the game at 73 with 7.7 seconds left. Lenzelle Smith Jr. inbounded the ball to Craft, who pushed the ball quickly up court to find Sullinger in position for the game-winning basket.
John Shurna, who finished the game with 22 points for Northwestern (17-12, 7-10) on Senior Night, took one final desperation shot as time expired that hit off the front rim. Drew Crawford scored a game-high 23 points for the Wildcats, a team still hoping to earn its first-ever invite to the NCAA Tournament. Most experts believed a win over the Buckeyes would have likely clinched a berth for the program.
Northwestern kept itself in the game with consistent scoring from Crawford and Shurna. Back-to-back threes from the duo brought the Wildcats within seven at 51-44 with 13:22 remaining to play.
Northwestern got within five when Crawford made a free throw at the 10:05 mark, but the Buckeyes scored the next six points to get back out to an 11-point lead with 8:07 remaining in the game.
The Wildcats stayed within striking distance at 70-63 with 4:48 remaining in the game with a three by Marcotullio and two free throws by Shurna. The Buckeyes scored only two field goals in the final five minutes of the contest, one of which was the game-winner by Sullinger.
A fast start helped the Buckeyes achieve a 10-point advantage at halftime, as Ohio State made each of its first six shots on its way to an 18-8 lead in the first six minutes. Smith Jr., who finished the game with 12 points and seven assists, scored the Buckeyes’ first four points.
Though the Buckeyes dominated the Wildcats on the glass by a 22-5 margin in the first half, Northwestern made seven first half three-pointers to stay within striking distance at the break. Senior William Buford, who was the only Buckeye starter to not score in double figures, sat the last 11:45 of the first half with two fouls.
Sullinger, who combined for 17 points and 12 rebounds in both games last week, had 13 points and eight rebounds at halftime. The sophomore finished the game with his 30th career double-double.
Craft, who played the entire 40 minutes, made 4-of-5 shot attempts from beyond the arc, tying a career-high for most threes made in a game originally set in last year's 69-66 win over Penn State on Jan. 15, 2011.
The Buckeyes clinched a first round bye in next week's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Depending on results at Michigan State Sunday and how Michigan finishes the season, the Buckeyes will either be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.
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