(MCT) — EVANSTON, Ill. — Different venues, same story.
Two weeks ago at Ohio State, Northwestern played the Buckeyes even for 37 minutes before succumbing in a 10-point loss.
On Thursday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Wildcats took a one-point lead with just more than four minutes to play. But the final result was almost identical — Buckeyes 63, Wildcats 53.
It marked improvement for an undermanned NU team that had gotten blown out in its last three games. But it still went down as the Wildcats’ sixth straight loss, their longest skid since 2008.
“We haven’t been playing competitive basketball,” NU coach Bill Carmody said. “It was certainly time.”
Kale Abrahamson made the most of his time in the second half. The fearless freshman overcame a double-team to drain a fadeaway 3-pointer to put Northwestern ahead 41-40.
Reggie Hearn drilled one from downtown with 4 minutes, 13 seconds to play to give the Wildcats a 49-48 lead.
But then the big red machine cranked up its defense, stealing the ball on three straight possessions.
“We were able to turn ‘em over 15 times,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta noted. “That was the difference.”
Indeed, the 16th-ranked Buckeyes (21-7, 11-5 Big Ten) normally crush Northwestern on the boards. But the final tally Thursday was 30-30.
Less even — the discrepancy in steals. Ohio State 10, Northwestern 2.
But you can’t talk about big numbers without a mention of Lenzelle Smith, who scored a game-high 24 points despite blowing a fast-break dunk that got the crowd roaring.
The native of Zion, recruited by NU coaches (Hey, they can dream), hit 6 of 11 3-pointers. He swished one 16 seconds after Hearn’s 3 gave NU fans all that false hope.
The performances of Tre Demps (14 points) and Abrahamson (nine rebounds) offer some hope for the future of the Wildcats (13-16, 4-12). But Abrahamson twice went up for jumpers and came down with the ball. And Demps had no assists in 36 minutes.
Deshaun Thomas (19 points) overwhelmed another NU first-year player, center Alex Olah, with lefty drives and spin moves.
“It was a lot of fun to play in a competitive game,” said NU point guard Dave Sobolewski, who scored 13 points playing with a sleeve to protect a bruised right elbow. “But that’s not what we play for. We come into every game trying to win.”