Ohio State's unlikely nemesis deflated

INDIANAPOLIS – Ohio State senior David Lighty laughed when asked if he was glad he wouldn’t have to play Northwestern again in his career.

“Especially from this year, yes, I would say so,” he said. “I’m happy about that one.”

Who would have thought Northwestern, which took Ohio State to overtime only to lose 66-61 on Friday at the Big Ten tournament, would be the team to give the country’s premier team its greatest fits this season? Sure, Purdue and Wisconsin defeated the top-ranked Buckeyes, but both teams also lost by 20-plus points in their other meetings.

Ohio State never dominated Northwestern like that. The Buckeyes stumbled along in both their games only to find ways late to pull out narrow wins over Northwestern. The first time around they escaped with a one-point win in Evanston. And on Friday in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, they trailed by three points late in the second half, fought back to win in overtime.

For Ohio State, the wins were sighs of relief. But even if the Buckeyes had lost one or even both games, their season likely wouldn’t have changed.

For Northwestern, they were two of the biggest missed opportunities in their program’s history. Beating the nation’s No. 1 team once or twice would have been major strides for an evolving program.

Instead, the Wildcats were left with that empty feeling of not reaching the NCAA tournament again coupled with two heartbreaking losses to Ohio State.

“Obviously two times this year, earlier on and this afternoon, it’s just a devastating feeling,” Northwestern sophomore Drew Crawford said. “Such a close game, especially against the No. 1 team in the nation, it’s such a great opportunity, so it’s always tough.”

The disappointment was draped on Northwestern coach Bill Carmody’s face in the postgame press conference. He shook his head more than once as if he replaying the game in his mind.

“Well, you know, very tough, tough loss for us,” Carmody said. “You know, I thought as a team we did what we wanted to do going in and executed the way we wanted to at both ends. You know, just weren't able to quite get it done.

“I think we have a good team, so you’d like to win those games, and you could see it from the guys. They came here to win and thought they could, and we were right there. I'd say disappointment.”

The loss was especially difficult for Northwestern’s leader Michael Thompson. Losing Friday meant he would never play in a NCAA tournament game in his career.

Thompson tried to stay positive about it.

“Obviously we came down here to win it, not just to play teams close,” Thompson said. “You know, but we just have to move past it. It's definitely going to be a long bus ride back to Evanston, but just have to move past it and focus on the next postseason.”

Northwestern could be NIT bound for a third consecutive season, which would be a school record, but that won’t be certain for the next few days.

“We’re hoping for the NIT,” Crawford said. “I love this team. I want us to be able to continue to play this year. I’m hoping we can make it.”