<
>

No. 8 Buckeyes eek out three-point win at Northwestern

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Nothing was easy about Ohio State's
victory that meant at least a share of the Big Ten regular season
championship.

The Buckeyes (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today; No. 9 AP) needed just about every second and
every ounce of energy to escape with a 56-53 win over Northwestern
on Wednesday night.

How tough was it?

"It ranks right up there," Ohio State guard Je'Kel Foster
said.

Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said, "That's one of the toughest
games I've ever been involved in."

Ron Lewis drove for a layup in the closing seconds and Terence
Dials scored 18 points to lift Ohio State to its first championship
since 2002.

The Buckeyes (22-4, 11-4), who lead No. 10 Illinois and
Iowa (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today; No. 23 AP) by a game in the standings, could win the title outright with
a victory over Purdue on Sunday.

Following a timeout with 30 seconds left, Lewis recovered a
loose ball after teammate Jamar Butler lost his dribble. He
eventually drove along the left side for a layup that made it 54-53
with 14 seconds left, passing up an open Dials on the block.

Northwestern decided not to call a timeout, and Sterling
Williams missed a driving layup.

"Normally, I call a timeout in that situation," Wildcats coach
Bill Carmody said. "I am taking responsibility for that. I saw a
transition and Sterling going, and that is his strength. It looked
like he was going to be able to get to the hole, but it just did
not happen. I should have called a timeout."

Lewis missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1.5 seconds left.
The Wildcats grabbed the rebound and called time out, but a long
inbounds pass from Tim Doyle to Vedran Vukusic sailed wide and out
of bounds along the sideline. Foster hit two free throws with
one-tenth of a second left.

"It looked like a kids' soccer game, with [everyone] chasing
the ball around for awhile," Matta said.

Dials was 9-of-12 from the field, grabbed seven rebounds and had
two steals, and Foster added 10 points, six rebounds and six
assists. Lewis had six points on 2-of-8 shooting but redeemed
himself at the end.

"If he had missed it, I think I would have been talking a
little trash," Dials said.

And Lewis might have heard it from his coach.

Matta said the Buckeyes intended to "quick hit it" after the
timeout. But Northwestern cut off Butler's passing angle. The ball
came loose, and Matta considered calling time out. Instead, Ohio
State got the go-ahead basket.

"We got it in Ron's hands, and he made a tremendous drive,"
Matta said. "I told him he better make the shot because Terence
was wide open down along the baseline."

Vukusic scored 13 points and Mohamed Hachad added 11 points and
10 rebounds for Northwestern (13-14, 5-10), which closes the
regular season at home Saturday against Minnesota.

Matta thought his team "was a little bit nervous and scared,"
and Northwestern simply made matters as difficult as possible. The
Buckeyes were never able to settle into a rhythm on offense.

"That's a credit to them," Matta said.

Seeking its first win over a Top Ten team in 12 years,
Northwestern took a 49-48 lead when Williams hit a 3-pointer from
the corner with 5:25 left. Butler immediately answered with a
basket, but the Wildcats kept coming.

Craig Moore hit a 3-pointer from the corner to tie it at 52 with
3:43 left, and Evan Seacat made one free throw to give Northwestern
a one-point lead with 2:54 left. It remained a one-point game until
the go-ahead sequence.

That came after Seacat stepped out of bounds along the sideline
with 54 seconds remaining. Dials rebounded a missed 3-pointer by
Lewis, and Ohio State called the timeout with 30 seconds to play.

"I've been focusing on rebounding a lot more the last couple of
weeks," Dials said. "This was a game where offensive rebounds
could win the game. ... I did everything I could to get the
rebound."

And now, Ohio State is in position to capture the league title
outright, which may explain why the Buckeyes were rather subdued
after the final buzzer.

"I think our guys have a pretty good feel that there's still
another game to play," Matta said. "I think that they understand
that obviously we're elated to be co-champions ... but once again
we've put ourselves in a big position to have the opportunity to
win outright on our home court on senior day."