After playing four of their last five games on the road, Ohio State returns home tonight, where they will play three of their last four games to close out the regular season. The Buckeyes will host a struggling Nebraska team, which has lost their last five games, and has failed to register a win on the road in conference play so far this season.
The last time Ohio State took the court was on Sunday in Ann Arbor, where the Buckeyes fell behind 39-23 to Michigan after the first 20 minutes of action, and while Thad Matta's team was able to cut the deficit to just three points in the second half, they didn't quite have enough to make it a regular season sweep over the Wolverines. Much like a number of other losses Ohio State has suffered during the season, the Buckeyes dug themselves into a hole in the first half that they just couldn't find their way out of despite a spirited second half comeback.
Losses in the last two games have seen Ohio State slip to the middle of the pack in the Big Ten standings. With the change in the conference tournament format due to the expansion of the Big Ten, Ohio State can't afford any more losses if they have any designs on finishing as one of the top four teams in the conference, and earning themselves a double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament. While D'Angelo Russell has carried the Buckeyes for most of the season, this would be an opportune time for seniors like Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson to step up and provide a boost to this Ohio State team as the regular season comes to a close.
While Ohio State has been struggling as of late, those struggles pale in comparison to what Nebraska has been facing recently. After lofty expectations this year, following a NCAA Tournament berth last year, the Cornhuskers have been a disappointment. Nebraska has lost five straight games, and that losing streak was punctuated by an embarrassing 74-46 loss to Iowa on Sunday in Lincoln.
The Hawkeyes used a 21-2 run to close the first half to break the game wide open, with the final result being so bad that Nebraska head coach Tim Miles locked his team out of their locker room and barred the team from talking to the media after the game.
Last year the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers met on three occasions, with each team winning at home before the Buckeyes took the rubber match with a second half comeback during the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Much like last year,
Nebraska is paced by Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. While the results may not be quite what Nebraska was looking for after last year's promising season, they still are not be overlooked, especially after being challenged by their head coach following Sunday's humiliating loss.
Numbers to know
A win tonight against Nebraska would register the 15th season in which a Thad Matta team has reached 20 wins. Coincidentally, this is the 15th season that Thad Matta has been a Division I head coach. This would mark Matta's 11th Ohio State team to reach 20 wins, and was preceded by three teams at Xavier and one team at Butler.
So far this season Jae'Sean Tate is shooting 58% from the field, which currently ranks fourth in Ohio State history among freshmen. Sitting just behind Tate in terms of freshman field goal percentage in fifth place is his father Jermaine, who shot 56.9% from the field in 1996.
After ranking seventh in the Big Ten last year by shooting 33.3% from three-point range, the Cornhuskers have really struggled this year. Currently Nebraska sits last in the Big Ten, and 336th nationally, hitting only 28.7% of their shots from behind the three-point arc.
Cast of characters
With 16 points against Michigan on Sunday, the guard became the fifth freshman to record 500 points or more in his first season in Columbus. Russell is the 32nd Buckeye overall to record at least 500 points in a season, and marks the 10th time in 11 season at Ohio State that Thad Matta has had at least one player score at least 500 points in a season.
Lately Thompson has regained a little bit of his scoring touch, reaching double figures in each of the last three games. Tonight's game will mark the 139th of the senior's career, which will tie him with Jamar Butler for fifth on Ohio State's all-time list. With 920 career points, Thompson has a shot at reaching 1,000 points, as long as he is able to produce like against Penn State where he scored 22 points.
The junior is one of seven players nationally, and one of two from power conferences (with the other being Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell), averaging 18 points, five rebounds, and two assists per game. Last week Petteway was one of 15 players named as a candidate for the Julius Erving Award, which is given to the nation's top small forward.
Shields needs only six rebounds to reach 500 for his career and would become the 14th player in Nebraska history to record 1,000 points and 500 rebounds during their time in Lincoln. So far this season the junior is averaging 15.7 points per game.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN and also broadcast on the radio at 97.1 FM.