Nebraska knew they needed to play a virtually flawless game in order to compete with the #8 Ohio State Buckeyes. Instead, they struggled to find open looks, lost center Andre Almeida to an apparent ankle injury, and found themselves buried by a 21-2 run en route to a 70-44 defeat.
Leading that charge was Deshaun Thomas, who scored inside, outside, and everywhere in between to frustrate the shorthanded and undersized Huskers. Thomas had 7 points in the game's first five minutes, 18 in the first half (to 17 for the entire Nebraska TEAM) and 22 points along with 8 boards for the night. Lenzelle Smith Jr added 17 of his own, on the strength of 5 three pointers. With Ray Gallegos unable to find his long-range stroke, the Cornhuskers had no way to keep up.
The Buckeyes staked out their early advantage thanks to hounding defense and dominance of the glass. Nebraska did not make a single free throw in the first half (missing all three of their attempts after a foul on a threeball), gave up 7 offensive rebounds, and was constantly forced to take contested jump shots. A major part of that was due to a breakout game from Amir Williams, who had 8 points, 7 boards, 4 GIF-worthy blocked shots, and at least that many redirected scoring chances. His post scoring still appears to be a work in progress, but Williams was still able hit paydirt on a few inside scoring opportunities.
The Huskers briefly flirted with getting back into the game midway through the first half after Gallegos finally shook lose for a three to bring the score within 20-15, and Evan Ravenel missed two freethrows on the following Buckeye possession. The Buckeyes managed to pick up two offensive rebounds, leading to Craft finding a wide open Lenzelle to increase the lead to 23-15. Ohio State would then proceed to go on a 13-2 run, culminating with a dramatic Ravenel ally-oop as time expired to take an overpowering 36-17 halftime lead.
Perhaps the only blemish for the Buckeyes was the continued absence of Aaron Craft's jump shot, as he went 0-4 from the field. Craft easily made up for his lack of individual offensive production with his 8 assists, 3 steals, and dogged on-the-ball defense that completely discombobulated the Nebraska guards. Flyin' Sam Thompson added 6 points (and his requite ridiculous dunk) and 6 boards, and LaQuinton Ross added 8 and 3 boards. Ohio State outrebounded Nebraska 41-29, and dominated nearly every other statistical category besides free throws, where the Buckeyes struggled once again (5-13, 38%)
Ray Gallegos was the leading scorer for Nebraska with 14, although he shot 4-18 from the floor to get there, and was a dismal 4-15 from three. Dylan Talley was second for the Cornhuskers with 9, although he struggled with similar inefficiency, going 4-14. As a team, Nebraska shot a paltry 30% from the field, and 28% from the three point line. Nebraska is undersized and will struggle to find easy shots for themselves, not just against schools of Ohio State's caliber. If they can't hit their three pointers at a higher clip, hitting the 50 point barrier will be tough on a regular basis. We've seen some pretty bad Penn State teams over the past few years, and Iowa has been had their moments as well, but this year's Nebraska team may end up being the worst Big Ten squad in recent memory.
Ohio State was wildly favored in this game and did just about everything they could be asked to do, from feeding Amir Williams to getting off to an early lead to taking away the three point shot for Nebraska. The road gets much tougher the rest of the season, and the Buckeyes will be unlikely to race to such a big lead until perhaps the end of the month when they play Penn State. They'll travel to a surprisingly adept Illinois team on Saturday that will give us a much more accurate reading on what lessons Thad Matta's team has learned from the Kansas and Duke losses. As for now, the Buckeyes can bask in a dominating performance, and an undefeated record in the nation's most competitive basketball conference.
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