Carton, Ahrens Rescue Ohio State in Win Over Northwestern
In a season where very little for Ohio State has made sense -- not the outrageously hot start or the where'd-that-come-from collapse -- it figures the Buckeyes' 71-59 win Sunday at Northwestern arrived in confounding fashion.
Presented a scenario where he'd need to rely on the scoring of a guy who didn't play at all in a Thursday loss or weather the storm with his top player sitting out down the stretch with foul trouble, OSU coach Chris Holtmann probably would have prepared to explain a seventh loss in eight games.
Instead, Ohio State survived the Big Ten's worst team thanks to 12 points off the bench from Justin Ahrens and a career-high 17 from D.J. Carton, who took over after Kaleb Wesson went to the bench with 7:34 left.
Ahrens steadied the Buckeyes (13-7, 3-6 Big Ten) in the first half, when Northwestern collapsed on Wesson and rendered him ineffective, and Carton rescued them late by forcing an uncomfortably fast tempo for the Wildcats (6-13, 1-8) that allowed his skills to shine.
"He was the difference really, with his energy and the burst that he gave us with a couple of steals and his transition finishes," Holtmann said of Carton, who shot 6-for-8 and had four rebounds, two steals, two assists and only one turnover. "He certainly played as well as he played all year. It thought this was his best game."
Carton ignited a 14-2 Ohio State burst that erased a 44-41 Northwestern lead, starting the getaway with a drive through the Wildcats' defense for a layup, then stole an inbounds pass and drove for another layup.
Ahrens added a pair of triples to the rally that built a 55-46 lead, but that slipped to 57-51 by the time Wesson left with his fourth personal at 7:30.
That's when Holtmann went with a small lineup and Carton came up big.
He and fellow guards C.J. Walker and Duane Washington teamed with E.J. Liddell and Andre Wesson to do what Ohio State hasn't done in a month -- play solid closing minutes with a game in the balance.
Carton showed the way, first with a move to the basket that earned two free throws, which he cashed, then rose in transition to tap in an off-target lob pass from Washington.
That spectacular finish seemed to break Northwestern, which did not score the final 2:42.
"It's a great feeling," Carton said. "We've we gone through a lot of adversity. We fight. Coach believes in us, and that's a big thing. We all believe in each other. Our chemistry is so close. We know when one guy goes out another guy is going to step up."
That guy was Ahrens early, even though he had scored only seven points since the first of the year and didn't get off the bench in OSU's previous game, a last-second loss to Minnesota.
"He just played ready," Holtmann said. "He saw a couple of them go down and that gave him life. To that kids credit, he stayed ready."
Washington had eight off the bench and Liddell scored two, combining with Carton and Ahrens to give OSU 39 points from its substitutes.
Kaleb and Andre Wesson each scored 11 points for the Buckeyes, who play host to Indiana on Saturday.
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