Thursday, March 6, 2003

Ohio St. 52, Northwestern 48

By Jason Strait
The Associated Press

EVANSTON, Ill. - Brent Darby doesn't care how Ohio State makes it to the postseason. He just wants to get there.

The Buckeyes (14-12, 7-8 Big Ten) made themselves eligible for the postseason with a 52-48 win over Northwestern on Wednesday. And while a bid to the NIT is the more likely scenario, Darby would still like one last chance to play in the NCAA tournament.

To do that, the Buckeyes would have to win the Big Ten tournament. Darby believes they can.

"In a league like ours, there is no dominant team. We can beat anybody," he said. "Who knows? Maybe we can get on a little run in the Big Ten tournament and sneak in."

The Buckeyes got out of Evanston with a win thanks to some clutch free throws from Darby, who struggled from the line - and just about everywhere else - against the Wildcats.

Darby made a pair of free throws with 3.4 seconds left and scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half in one of his worse shooting performances of the season.

Playing with a severely swollen right thumb, Darby was 5-of-14 from the field. Even more surprisingly, he was 5-of-12 from the free throw line. Still, it was enough.

"I was frustrated," Darby said. "I missed a lot of layups, missed some free throws, missed some easy chip shots.

"It was just one of those games."

Ohio State, which won its ninth straight against Northwestern, finished with a 49-29 edge in rebounding - including 22 offensive rebounds. Velimir Radinovic led the Buckeyes with seven offensive rebounds, 12 total, and finished with 14 points.

Forced to shoot long jumpers, Northwestern came up short. The Wildcats made 9-of-26 3s, and shot 30 percent for the game.

Ohio State, which shot 34 percent and made 12-of-25 free throws, held the Wildcats to one field goal over the last 10:03.

"If a team shoots 34 percent and then makes half its foul shots and you're at home, you think you're going to win that game," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "But the stat that jumps out is that rebounding. They just crushed us on the boards."

Ohio State trailed 38-31 when Matt Sylvester made a pair of baskets to cut the deficit to three. Darby, just 1-of-8 in the first half, hit a 3-pointer and a fall-away jumper inside the 3-point line to cap an 11-0 run that gave the Buckeyes a 42-38 lead.

Darby, an 83 percent free throw shooter, missed a pair of free throws with 24 seconds to go and Ohio State up by three, giving Northwestern a chance to tie.

However, Aaron Jennings passed up an open 3-point attempt and instead tried to throw it down low to Jason Burke - committing one of several costly turnovers for the Wildcats (11-15, 3-12).

Northwestern turned the ball over 15 times.

Darby, playing despite the swollen thumb, missed two practices last week and said he was still bothered by the injury.

"It's been kind of rough with my hand," he said. "I tried to get into the groove early and hit some shots, and luckily they started falling in the second half when we needed them."

Both teams had trouble scoring in the first half.

Northwestern held Ohio State scoreless for 6:06 in the first half to open up a 20-9 lead with 8:13 to go in the half. Jitim Young, the team's leading scorer, hit a 3-pointer and scored eight straight during the 11-0 spurt.

Up by 11, Northwestern didn't score the rest of the half.

Darby's first points of the game sparked a 10-0 run as Ohio State closed to 20-19 at halftime, and took the lead for good on his 3-pointer in the second half.

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