Ohio State was able to get out of the gates quickly against a struggling Nebraska team to snap a two-game losing streak, and stay in the race to be one of the top-four teams in the Big Ten heading into the conference tournament. Early in the game the Buckeyes used a 12-0 run to put some distance on the Cornhuskers, punctuated by some strong play from seniors Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott.
Thompson was able to add a couple early dunks to his lengthy highlight reel, while Scott added an early steal and layup, followed by a three-pointer to put Ohio State up 15-4. From there, Jae'Sean Tate continued his strong play as of late to pace Ohio State in the first half with 14 points. While Tate had a nice dunk on another beautiful pass from D'Angelo Russell, the freshman's biggest highlight might've been his third three-pointer of the season, which forced a timeout from Tim Miles with the Buckeyes up 32-15.
After coming out after halftime with a 42-24 lead, Nebraska was able to make up a little bit of ground, but another strong Buckeye run erased the work the Cornhuskers had done at chipping away at the lead. Nebraska was able to cut the lead to 13 with about 16 minutes to go, but D'Angelo Russell was fouled on a three-point attempt and sank all three of his free throws to push the lead back to 16.
There was some concern in the second half when Russell left the game for a spell, but he was able to return after it was determined he was dealing with some leg cramps. The absence of Russell didn't hurt Ohio State's offense, with Ohio State continuing to expand their lead over the Cornhuskers. For the rest of the contest the lead for the Buckeyes hovered around the 20-point mark.
3 things we learned:
1) While D'Angelo Russell is still dangerous, he looks to be wearing down a little bit. It's hard to blame the freshman for tiring some with how much of the load the Buckeyes have asked him to shoulder so far this season. Coming into the game, Russell had only shot 14-41 from the field over the last three contests, and he continued to struggle in the first half, only hitting two of his seven shots. Dan Dakich noted how some of Russell's shot attempts looked awkward, and might possibly be attributed to tired legs.
Even with his shot not falling consistently, Russell still has a tremendous impact on what the Buckeyes do. The extra attention Russell has received is creating some more opportunities for Sam Thompson and Jae'Sean Tate, who have been capitalize on their increased workload in the offense recently. If Russell can regain his shot from earlier in the Big Ten season, he could make Ohio State a dangerous team in the tournament.
2) It feels like free throws are going to cost Ohio State a game at some point. Tonight's game wasn't close and even with that every missed free throw felt like getting stabbed in the heart. At one point Ohio State had only hit two of the nine free throws they had attempted, which allowed Nebraska to hang around a little bit. The good thing was the Cornhuskers weren't good enough to capitalize on the Buckeyes not cashing in from the charity stripe.
From here on out the competition will only get tougher for Ohio State, though. Right now there isn't a lot of confidence for any of the key Buckeye players to be able to clinch, or save, a game when called upon late. While Russell is a great shooter, he hasn't been spotty with his free throws at times this year. Shannon Scott has improved his free throws each year, but he still just shooting a little bit above 60%. Hopefully the feeling is wrong, but there seems to be too much evidence point towards future free throw heartbreak.
3) Sam Thompson is peaking at the right time for the Buckeyes. With the senior just 80 points shy of the 1,000-point mark in his Buckeye career, Sam Thompson is finding his offense at a time when Ohio State needs it most. This marks the fourth game in a row in which Thompson has hit double digits in the scoring column, and he had little problems doing that, reaching that total in the first half.
Many will remember Thompson for his numerous dunks, but lately Thompson has been a force from long distance. In the Penn State a couple weeks ago, Thompson hit three three-pointers, he equaled that total in this game. With Russell's shot not falling quite like earlier in the season, along with the disappearance of Marc Loving, Thompson has stepped his game up and made himself more a threat from the perimeter. Opponents having to guard Thompson a little closer on the outside has opened up the inside a little bit, with Jae'Sean Tate reaping some of those benefits with more room to work with. If Thompson can continue his increased scoring for the rest of the season, he might not be quite as far away from 1,000 points as it might have seemed a few weeks ago.