LaQuinton Ross was a pleasant surprise off the bench. - USA TODAY Sports
In spite of a slow start (which seems almost par for the course for OSU in the Big Ten tournament year in, year out), the Buckeyes found themselves defensively and ran away with their third game against Nebraska this season.
In spite of a slow start that surely had some Ohio State basketball fans flashing back to the last time these two teams met, Thad Matta's Ohio State basketball team managed to find themselves at the most opportune time to push forward in a relatively easy win over 10th seeded Nebraska, 71-50, in their 2013 Big Ten Basketball Tournament opener Friday night.
Deshaun Thomas was his usual brilliant self from the offensive end (despite an early game benching for a lackadaisical effort on the defensive end) scoring 19, while also putting up a solid effort on the glass (nine boards). Sam Thompson opened the game with a smooth 3 and continued it throughout the game en route to one of the best post season games of his career (19 points). LaQuinton Ross was the highlight of the Ohio State bench, providing a solid effort shooting the ball in spite of several turnovers, en route to 11 points.
It wasn't long after Thompson's three that the wheels seemed to come off the wagon for the Buckeyes. At one juncture, Thad Matta took a frustrated time out, during which he lambasted his team, allegedly screaming "Do you think this was going to be [expletive] easy?" Even Ohio State's premiere offensive weapon, all-Big Ten first teamer Deshaun Thomas, was benched in the early goings for what was perceived as a lackluster effort defensively.
"I was just thinking about getting my mind right," Thomas told the press after the game about what was going through his mind during the benching. Thomas would find himself on the pine until almost the 12 minute mark in the first half, when he reentered the contest to find the Buckeyes down by almost double digits. Shannon Scott's substitution would ultimately be the real difference maker for the Buckeyes, however, as upon his assertion into the game, he'd score a quick 5 points to score the gap to just 15-11.
Further shaking off the ghosts of the Evan Turner mid-court shot against Michigan, and overtime against Northwestern in 2011, the Buckeyes used the added burst from Scott and a reinvigorated Thomas to cue a 10-0 run, forcing Tim Miles and the Huskers into a time out.
Thomas would later put back his own miss to make it 20-17, his first field goal of the game, and the Buckeyes would key off the momentum change. Matta's tongue lashing against the Buckeyes would prove fruitful, as Evan Ravenel would be an instant difference maker for the Bucks, and a one time almost 10 point deficit evolved into a comfortable 3-5 point lead for the remainder of the first half. At the intermission, the Buckeyes had first eight turnovers (and converted those 8 TO's into nine points) while also shooting 41% from the field. Nebraska meanwhile shot almost 46%, but the turnover differential plus the athleticism of the Buckeyes seemed to be a bit much as Brandon Ubel was only able to carry so much for Big Red.
With the Buckeyes ending the first half on a 22-8 run, Thomas, who again was benched for a stretch and played like a stereotype of the worst of his 2012-2013 season for much of the first half, was the leader with 8 points and 4 rebounds, despite just one field goal to his name. If Ohio State even so much as continued moving forward with the defense playing at the level they did in the latter portions of the first half, it was unlikely to be much of a contest.
Sam Thompson would set the tone for a second half with one of his trademark GIFable dunks, before the Buckeyes would stretch the lead quickly to double digits. The Buckeyes' 6-0 start to the second half would lead to Nebraska's Ray Gallegos chunking up ill timed, uneven three pointers. Miles would be forced to take another TO with the margin now 34-23.
Nebraska went into a zone a decent portion of the later first (and ultimately again during the second) halves but never looked totally comfortable trying to slow Ohio State's superior athletes in it. With Sam Thompson proving he was more than just a SportsCenter highlight worthy dunker (to the tune of a game high 19 points), the Buckeyes would continue to expand upon their lead. At one stretch a little more than midway through the second, the Buckeyes were up 14-1 on points off turnovers.
The Buckeyes ultimately wound up opening half number two with over a 16-3 run, and once LaQuinton Ross started exhibiting his trademark butter smooth stroke (with little defensive opposition, to be fair), the Buckeyes expanded things to a 14 point margin.
Both Amedeo Della Valle and Trey McDonald saw action with over 9 minutes to play, and Ohio State never seriously felt threatened the remainder of the contest. Evan Ravenel continued the strong play he exhibited down the stretch of the regular season, and behind the scoring prowess of Thompson and Thomas, the Buckeyes never looked back.
Nebraska' Brandon Ubel and Shavon Shields were up to the task, but little else on the Nebraska offensive end from a macro sense were. Once the Buckeyes got their team defense righted, the overmatched Huskers had little hope of advancing. Ohio State next faces the winner of Michigan State and Iowa tomorrow afternoon, at roughly 4:05 p.m. EDT on CBS.
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Three Buckeyes scored in double figures: junior forward Deshaun Thomas (19), sophomore forward Sam Thompson (19) and sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross (11).
Thompson scored a career-high 19 points and made a career-best three 3-point field goals.
Thomas has scored in double figures in all 31 games this season.
Craft's eight assists tied a season best and are the most for a Buckeye in Big Ten Tournament history. Craft now has 500 assists for his career.
Ross tied a career best with three three-point field goals.
Ohio State is 20-9 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes have won seven of their last eight quarterfinal games and 16 of their last 20 games in the tournament overall.
Head coach Thad Matta owns a 17-5 record in the Big Ten Tournament. He has the highest winning percentage (77.3 percent) and the second-most tournament wins (17) of any conference coach in history.
Matta has compiled a record of 48-12 as a head coach in March, the fourth-best record by percentage (80 percent) among active coaches.
The Buckeyes opened the second half with a 26-5 run covering 7:59 minutes of play.
Trailing 15-6 at the 16:03 mark of the first half, Ohio State held Nebraska scoreless during a 12-0 run covering 8:38 of play to take the lead.
Ohio State's bench outscored the Cornhuskers' bench by a 21-7 margin.