COLUMBUS — LaQuinton Ross apologized to his Ohio State teammates for getting involved in a scuffle that led to his ejection.
Fortunately for them, he had already done his share to help them get a win before leaving.
Ross scored 16 points to lead No. 24 Ohio State to a 76-60 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night in a game interrupted by the late scrum.
The fracas late in the game delayed play for several minutes while the officials deliberated penalties for the players. Northwestern’s Nikola Cerina also was ejected. The teams shot 10 free throws — a double foul, two technicals against Ross and one against Cerina — as a result of the shoving match.
“Things happen,” Cerina said. “I don’t really know. I have to look at the tape and see what actually happened.”
Cerina was subsequently suspended by the Big Ten for the Wildcats’ next game, Saturday at home against Indiana, for taking a swing with a closed hand at Ohio State’s Amir Williams. Ross was not suspended, but was disqualified for picking up two dead-ball contact technical fouls.
Ross was not available to speak with reporters.
Up until the skirmish, the Buckeyes overcame a slow start to take command.
The victory was Ohio State’s 33rd consecutive win over Northwestern in Columbus, dating to an 83-72 loss on Feb. 24, 1977, at old St. John Arena.
Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. each added 14 points for Ohio State. Sam Thompson, who had not hit double figures in his last eight games, had 11 for the Buckeyes (21-6, 8-6 Big Ten), who have won five of their last six.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I couldn’t shoot,” Thompson joked. “I just had open looks and was able to knock them down.”
The Buckeyes, up by four at the break, took control by starting the second half with a 9-0 run.
Craft hit two foul shots on the first possession — an action that would be repeated as the Wildcats were called for five fouls in the opening 2:10 of the half. Ohio State was in the double-bonus for the final 10:46.
They ended up making 23 of 29 free throws to Northwestern’s 9 of 14.
At the other end, Crawford’s baseline jumper was blocked by Thompson, who then poured in a 3 from the wing off an assist from Smith. Northwestern’s Chris Collins called a quick timeout with just 56 seconds elapsed, but that didn’t change the momentum.
Craft stole a pass that went through Crawford’s hands, then flipped a long pass to Shannon Scott who passed up a layup to throw the ball back to Smith for an emphatic dunk.
Moments later, Thompson flipped in a perimeter jumper for a 46-33 advantage.
Northwestern went scoreless for the final 50 seconds of the opening half and the first 3:43 of the second until JerShon Cobb hit a jumper.
Ohio State pulled away from there, with the lead never dipping below double figures.
“We did a pretty good job of getting inside the defense and attacking and we were finishing around there,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said.
Of the spurt in the middle of the game, Matta said it was as good as his team had played over a span in recent weeks.
“Yeah, with the consistency, no question,” he said. “We felt like we needed a run. We kept saying we needed to put a run on.”
The shoving took place at the 5:24 mark with the Buckeyes leading 66-50. It appeared that big men Cerina and Williams traded shoves, with Ross then shoving at least one player.
Northwestern coach Chris Collins said it could have been much worse.
“I didn’t see it,” Collins said. “I saw a lot of bodies. Sometimes you see a lot of pushing and grabbing. I personally didn’t see any punches, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any thrown. I trust what the referees said. They got the fouls on us, the fouls on them — and then we played on.”
Drew Crawford scored 22 points and Tre Demps 14 for the Wildcats (12-15, 5-9), who have lost four in a row.
There was one more flare-up after the skirmish under the Ohio State basket. With 2:51 remaining, Craft was dribbling on a breakaway when Northwestern’s Cobb shoved him from behind. The officials ruled it was an intentional foul, but did not eject Cobb.
The Wildcats went on a 13-1 spurt in the first half, with Crawford leading the way with five points on an 18-foot fadeaway under pressure and a long, high-arcing 3. That turned a 15-12 deficit into a 25-16 lead as the Buckeyes were scoreless for more than 4½ minutes.
But over the final 7 minutes of the half, Ohio State scored 21 of the 29 points to take a 37-33 lead. Ross was the main culprit, at one point scoring all the points in a 7-0 run.