ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Chris Holtmann figured an off-night from Keita Bates-Diop was inevitable. So, too, is the Ohio State coach’s first Big Ten loss.
But it did not coincide with his star player’s first subpar performance in weeks.
Holtmann became the first coach in 95 years to win his first seven Big Ten games as No. 22 Ohio State defeated Northwestern 71-65 on Wednesday night. Holtmann is the third Big Ten coach to win his first seven conference games, joining Wisconsin’s Walter Meanwell (1911-12) and Iowa’s Sam Barry (1922-23). Holtmann replaced Thad Matta, the program’s all-time wins leader, this season.
“It really does not mean anything,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s a reflection on the players as much as anything. We’ve got a group that really likes each other. And it’s easy to like each other when you’re on the streak that we’re on right now, but I sensed that they even liked each other when we had some rough spots earlier in the year.”
C.J. Jackson had 12 points and eight assists, Micah Potter scored 13 points off the bench and Bates-Diop, the Big Ten’s leading scorer and reigning two-time player of the week, had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Buckeyes (16-4, 7-0), who won their sixth straight overall.
Vic Law scored 14 points and Scottie Lindsey had 13 for Northwestern (11-9, 2-5) as the Wildcats suffered their second straight double-digit loss.
Picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten in a preseason media poll, the Buckeyes have been the story of the conference so far this season. Coming off successive routs of then-No. 1 Michigan State, Maryland and Rutgers, Ohio State led Northwestern by as many as 15 in the second half before holding off a late Wildcats charge.
Northwestern got within three at 68-65 on a 3-pointer by Lindsey with 43 seconds left, but Jackson sealed the victory from the foul line.
“Obviously I’m disappointed in the result of the game, but I was actually very proud of my team tonight,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “I loved our fight. If you would have said to me we were going to hold them to 70 points and hold Keita to 10 points, I would have probably lived with that result.”
Ohio State: While winning has become routine for the Buckeyes, pulling out close games has not. This was the smallest margin of Ohio State’s 16 victories, 14 of which were by double digits.
“We didn’t always play our best, but man, this is one we’ll feel good about,” Holtmann said. “You’re playing on a team’s home court, they’re probably going to make shots, they’re probably going to make a run.”
Northwestern: With four starters back from the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, the Wildcats have fallen far short of expectations and are going to have turn things around in a hurry to make a case for another invitation to the dance.
Holtmann praised the overall play of Bates-Diop, who was averaging 20.3 points overall and 23.3 in Big Ten play before going 4 of 12 from the field and 2 for 4 from the line against Northwestern.
“No one in the country, that I’ve seen, has went through the kind of stretch that he’s had in terms of efficiency,” Holtmann said. “It’s unbelievable, and I hope we have a full appreciation for how good he’s been in this stretch. And he’s going to have a night or two where it doesn’t go his way. But the fact that he stayed in there and competed, I’m so proud of him.”
Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon was removed from the starting lineup a few minutes before tip with a back injury. Falzon, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, averages 6.8 points. His replacement, Gavin Skelly, had 11.
Northwestern did not make a shot from the perimeter in the final 14:14 of the first half. The Wildcats missed 12 straight jump shots during that stretch as Ohio State turned a 12-6 deficit into a 33-25 halftime lead.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes host Minnesota on Saturday.
Northwestern: The Wildcats host Penn State on Saturday.
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