On the heels of a win that could potentially save their season, Ohio State knew it wasn't going to get an off night heading on the road to play always plucky Nebraska.
The basketball Buckeyes got to a somewhat uncharacteristic fast start in the first half, but a series of Nebraska runs saw Thad Matta's Bucks looking up at a sizable deficit. Ohio State's now trailed by double digits in the first half of every conference road game they've played this season.
Behind nearly unthinkable turnovers and efficient offensive play from the Huskers, Nebraska, shooting 60% at one stretch in the first half, capitalized on a field goal-less five minute stretch from OSU to keep their first half lead around 10.
Anytime OSU was able to chip the lead to something more tenable, outstanding Huskers ball movement and sharp shooting coupled with turnovers -- the Bucks finished the first half with 11 of them -- would undo whatever headway the Bucks had made.
Shooting 37% in the first half against a team not particularly known for their field goal defense as the opposition shoots 50% from the field is an easy recipe to be looking up at a 40-32 halftime deficit.
Both teams regressed to the mean a bit at the start of the second half. As Nebraska’s near inability to miss cratered back to reality and OSU’s inability to buy a basket leveled out, the Bucks were able to cut the often double digit deficit down to 4 heading into the under-16 timeout.
Some good defensive play from OSU (both in terms of forcing turnovers and good on and off the ball defense alike) and making the buckets that presented themselves helped the Buckeyes get the lead down to low single-digits. Behind a surprise explosive cameo from Dave Bell of all people, the Bucks were able to get within a point of their first lead since the early portions of the contest.
With free throws still a struggle for Matta’s core, the Bucks saving grace was curbing the turnovers that plagued them in the first half. After 11 turnovers in the first half, OSU didn’t have a single one through the 10 minute mark in the second.
A Trevor Thompson slam in a bit of a two-man game coupled with some lousy Huskers offense culminated in OSU turning a 10-point second half margin into a 53-52 lead:
.@TrevBallinTrey2 dunks everything.— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) January 19, 2017
That's good for an @OhioStateHoops lead! https://t.co/XGrt0zU0UK
With some Jae’Sean Tate hustle and grit rubbing off on his teammates, the Bucks were able to withstand a series of Nebraska counter punches to expand their newfound lead as much as four.
What felt like a probable win with three minutes to go began to feel a bit nervy when the shots that were missing started falling for the Huskers. With a chance to regain the lead from the charity stripe, NU point guard Glynn Watson Jr pulled one from OSU’s playbook and missed both, keeping the lead 63-62 OSU.
A brutal C.J. Jackson three-point miss opened the door for Nebraska, who regained the lead at 66-65. Marc Loving had a look for the Bucks to take the lead from 3 but after a clutch baseline timeout, the Bucks were able to find Loving on a near buzzer beater put in and steal back the win with .7 seconds to play.
A little closeup action of the last shot from our main man in the Ohio State ticket office @mattycarbs9 #GoBucks pic.twitter.com/TM5yF6LWVU— OSU BASKETBALL (@OhioStateHoops) January 19, 2017
3 things we learned:
1. Marc Loving can’t do everything himself. An almost surreal sentence to read back, but Loving, the target of near infinite ire in Ohio State social media circles for the past two seasons and change, has quietly been the Buckeyes best player during the last month or so.
Also the best Ohio State player in the first half, Loving needed more help with OSU looking up at a double-digit deficit, and even a combination of his teammates struggled to do the trick.
With Loving cooling off in the second, JaQuan Lyle, Jae’Sean Tate, Trevor Thompson, and surprise! — Dave Bell — helped OSU get back into it.
If the Bucks can manage to get any three of the names mentioned going concurrently, they’ll be able to hang with more and more teams as conference play’s degree of difficulty swings upwards.
2. There’s a reason Ohio State’s rotation’s been basically 6 deep. But ... It was nice to see Andre Wesson continue to get more burn, but neither he nor JUCO transfer PG C.J. Jackson looked anywhere near ready for conference prime time.
Without a true dominant scorer, lacking depth at point guard, and their second best player out for the season, on nights when OSU’s six best players aren’t at their best, stealing a win is going to be an awfully tall task.
Enter David Bell. Out of seemingly nowhere, Bell provided a real spark, exploding for multiple put-back dunks and boards and helped put a little fire into OSU at a time they needed it most.
The Bucks will need that seventh man, particularly in the absence of Keita Bates-Diop, lost for the season to injury, if they want any shot at keeping Thad Matta’s 20-win streak alive and well.
3. There’s no place like home. The Buckeyes have still largely struggled on the road in conference play. With essentially no easy Ws in the 2016-2017 edition of the Big Ten, OSU’s margin of error at home remains razor thin.
Northwestern, who seemingly always play the Bucks tough at home or on the road, comes to Value City Arena Sunday. A chance for revenge against Richard Pitino and Minnesota follows next Wednesday.
If the Bucks are unable to win both of theirs, they can forget even an NIT bid.
As mentioned prior, with this team being as thin as they are, it’s expected some road contests against even average teams might be too tall an order. Thad Matta’s team absolutely has to win the games they’re able to though. And even with contests like tonight’s — Tim Miles and co. were projected by advanced metrics to win by 1 — dropping winnable games in the comfortable confines of the Schottenstein Center could unravel a team that seemed to have a real shot at getting something going after a win over Michigan State and tonight’s outcome.