This was ugly. Ohio State scored two points over the course of eight minutes to end the first half and begin the second half, leading to an 18 point Nebraska lead.
But it doesn't matter. The Buckeyes survived, and they advanced.
Ohio State came back from that 18 point deficit with 14 minutes left to defeat Nebraska 71-67 behind 26 points and 13 rebounds from LaQuinton Ross and stellar second half defense by Aaron Craft on Nebraska's All-Big Ten wing Terran Petteway.
The Buckeyes also received an energetic performance from Amedeo Della Valle, who contributed 11 points, two steals, and three (!!!) blocked shots in the second half to jump start the Buckeye comeback. Shannon Scott settled down after a rough first half to finish with nine points, five assists, and four rebounds. Walter Pitchford and Shavon Shields also contributed 15 and 12 points respectively for the Huskers.
The Buckeyes came out on an 11-3 run as Nebraska started the game 2-12 from the field until Petteway heated up and scored seven quick points to bring the game within four. But then, for reasons beyond understanding, it turned into the "Amir Williams Show." Williams leaked into open areas on the baseline, finished on put backs, and rolled to easy dunks at the rim on his way to eight points in the first 11 minutes.
Everything wasn't coming up Milhouse for the Buckeyes though. Despite shooting 56% in the first 15 minutes, they had eight turnovers – including three each from Ross and Scott – which allowed Nebraska to tie the game at 20. Then on the next possession, Thompson struck again:
As you can see by the GIF, Nebraska had fallen into a zone by that point, and Ohio State's zone offense has been a general disaster this season. But for the next four possessions, Ohio State went down and scored pretty easily. Ross made two quick jumpers and Scott made a free throw after being fouled on a rebound. The offense wasn't a problem in this half. Unfortunately though, Ohio State's defense failed in the final 75 seconds. Shavon Shields made two quick buckets to give Nebraska a one point lead, then Ray Gallegos knocked down a jumper before the half ended to get the score to 31-28. Just like that, all of Ohio State's early momentum was gone despite strong play from Ross and Williams.
It got even uglier to start the second half for the Buckeyes. They missed four free throws in the first two minutes, and Nebraska pushed the lead to eight as Ohio State's offense did that thing where they stand around with their thumbs up their asses and wait for Craft to do something. Going back to the first half, Ohio State's offense was scoreless for a total of four consecutive minutes until Ross bullied his way into the paint for a short contested lay in. But don't worry, after that bucket they went another four minutes without scoring until Ross got frustrated, was called for a foul after he pushed off of his man in an attempt to create space, then received a technical for a completely unnecessary shove after the play.
The problems with this team are encapsulated by the fact that Matta couldn't even take out Ross after the technical. Ross is and was their only hope for offense against what was a suffocating Nebraska defense. Matta had to pray that Ross figured it out. After the technical free throws, Nebraska led by 14. Then they scored two more buckets to stretch it to a 48-30 lead.
That's when Ross figured it out.
He came down and knocked down a three. Then commanded the ball in the short post and made a quick floater before a somewhat weak on-the-floor foul wiped it out. But not to worry, he made up for it by grabbing the ball 30 feet away from the hoop, crossing over four times, spinning into the paint, then making an easy lay-up. After a ridiculous looking Della Valle fast break coast-to-coast lay-up, Miles called a time out. Out of the timeout, Della Valle got a Havlicekian steal and layup, followed by a cheap offensive foul on Petteway. After a couple of traded baskets, the game was within 8. Ohio State turned up the defensive intensity, and Ross kept attacking the rim.
Ohio State was pressing with intensity and authority, and Nebraska literally couldn't inbound the ball. They had to waste two timeouts, and got called for a five second violation. And Ross still attacked even more. He scored nine straight Ohio State points over a two minute stretch. Then after a 30 foot Ross three point attempt, no one boxed out Craft for a quick tip-in two. It was a quick turnaround, and Ohio State was now only down four.
Then a Scott steal and lay-in followed by this thunderous Thompson dunk led to a two point game:
Ohio State had seemingly turned the corner. But another dagger of a Pitchford three pushed it to five. They traded free throws until Della Valle made a three to bring it back to two. After another great defensive possession, Petteway's fourth foul put Ross at the line, where he tied the game at 63. Then after another fantastic 35 second defensive possession leading to a terrible fadeaway one-footed jumper by Petteway, Ross again forced a foul on Petteway and Nebraska's best offensive weapon was gone. After Ross made two free throws, Ohio State had their first lead since the first half.
Shields travelled, and after a timeout, Craft did this to take a four point lead and the Buckeyes never looked back:
After some silliness at the end with Craft fouling the Huskers twice, Ohio State finally finished it out. For seemingly the first time this year, they made their free throws down the stretch. And they reach the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, where they face off against hated rival Michigan in what will assuredly be a physical, heated game.
This game was everything that encompasses Ohio State basketball in the 2013-14 season. Their offense goes minutes at a time without scoring. Their intensity and focus wavers constantly. And their outside shooting – 22% from three today – can't be counted on to be anything resembling respectable. But then they find a way to dial up the pressure and get easy buckets. And those easy buckets turn into confidence, which makes them attack more on offense. It's the circle of life. Time is not a flat circle with this team, it's a circle that mixes long minutes of poop and vomit with moments of stellar effort and energetic brilliance.
Don't ask me why Ohio State does this. I have no idea. They're infuriating and fantastic rolled into one. But they somehow find ways to finish games. And they live to fight another day in the Big Ten Tournament.
And that's what matters. Now, I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to start drinking.
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