Ohio State's Lenzelle Smith Jr., right, works for a rebound against Northwestern's Kale Abrahamson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Thursday, February 14, 2013 9:44 pm
Thomas scores 22, Ohio State escapes upset, 69-59
By RUSTY MILLERAP Sports Writer
Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 12 points - all in the first half - with Sam Thompson getting 11 and Amir Williams had a career-high 10 for the Buckeyes (18-6, 8-4 Big Ten).
Pesky Northwestern (13-12, 4-8) led throughout the second half despite having only seven scholarship players due to injuries.
Tre Demps led the Wildcats with 16 points, Reggie Hearn had 12 and Dave Sobolewski 10.
No one would have been surprised to see the Buckeyes blow out the Wildcats. They held a 111-45 upper hand all-time against Northwestern, including 65-14 in home games.
The last time a Northwestern team had won in Columbus was Feb. 24, 1977 - when the original Star Wars was up for best picture and the Cincinnati Reds reigned as World Series champs.
Also, the Wildcats were wounded. They recently lost starter Jared Swopshire, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after being hurt Feb. 9 at Iowa. Drew Crawford, who is on the cover of the media guide after averaging 16.1 points a game last season, has missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. Also sidelined are Sanjay Lumpkin (wrist), 7-foot-2 Chier Ajou (knee) and 7-0 Alex Olah (upper body).
Only seven scholarship players were available to coach Bill Carmody due to the injuries and another player lost to a disciplinary problem.
But the Wildcats led by four points for several minutes down the stretch. They led 54-52 on a three-point play by Kale Abrahamson, who had driven the left baseline and then tossed in the layup while being fouled with 5:15 left.
Ohio State countered with Thomas, who had struggled with his shot and with sticky defensive coverage all night, getting fouled after he muscled in a bucket. His three-point play put the Buckeyes ahead 55-54. The lead grew to three moments later when, after a Northwestern miss, Thompson scored on a layup.
But Demps, who was 4 of 6 behind the arc, drilled one from the right wing to tie it again with 3:24 remaining as an uneasy crowd of 15,842 at Value City Arena took a break.
And the Buckeyes took over.
Thomas scored in traffic and drew the fifth foul on Abrahamson with 3:03 left.
Hearn drove from the left side and his shot, which could have tied it, instead sat on the back of the iron for a full two seconds before finally falling.
Aaron Craft, who had seven points, three rebounds and six assists, then drove through the heart of the Northwestern zone and, shifting hands in mid-air, flipped in a left-handed layup to push the lead to 61-57 with 1:52 remaining.
Now the Wildcats, who had frustrated Ohio State's offense all night, could not find the range. After another miss, Thomas was fouled - Mike Turner's fifth - and banged in both free throws. Thomas then added baskets in the final minute before Thomas made two more foul shots to complete the 12-point assault.
Thomas and Craft were playing in their 100th career games for the Buckeyes. Their record improved to 83-17.
Ohio State was in the rare situation of having to come back from a two-game losing skid. They had not lost consecutive games before last week's setbacks to No. 3 Michigan and No. 1 Indiana in three years - a string of 122 games.
The Buckeyes had difficulty with the Wildcats throughout the first half but forged a late 30-27 lead on a 3-pointer by Smith and a Williams dunk. But Northwestern hurried the ball up the court in the final seconds and Demps tossed in a frantic 3 from just inside midcourt to send the teams into the locker room tied at 30.
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