The Ohio State Buckeyes have four games remaining in the regular season prior to the start of the Big Ten Tournament, but a stinging loss to Michigan State has taken nearly all hope of an NCAA Tournament berth. This year could mark the first time in That Matta’s tenure at Ohio State that the Buckeyes have failed to make the tournament for two-straight years. With the loss to Michigan State, this season will also be the first in over a decade that the Buckeyes have less than 10 conference wins.
Forward Marc Loving, the team’s only senior, kept the game close for Ohio State, leading the Buckeyes with 22 points on the night. Sophomore point guard JaQuan Lyle came off the bench Tuesday after missing the Buckeyes’ previous matchup against Maryland due to a family emergency, recording 10 points in the loss, though he was held scoreless in the second half.
“We stopped the bleeding, but weren’t able to recover,” Loving said after the game.
The team also got into foul trouble early and often, with both junior center Trevor Thompson and junior forward Jae’Sean Tate needing to sit significant minutes due to foul trouble (Thompson ultimately fouled out of the game).
“I think we’re making progress, but obviously we’re not there yet,” said Matta following the loss.
Now, Ohio State faces the Huskers in Columbus. The last time these two teams met in January marked one of the rare bright spots on the season for Ohio State, with Loving hitting a last-second shot to give the Buckeyes the win in Lincoln. It was Ohio State’s first conference road win of the season. Ohio State also managed to come back from a double-digit deficit to get the win.
Nebraska is coming off a 16-point win over Penn State, but had previously lost three straight to Michigan State, Iowa and No. 7 Wisconsin, and eight of their last 10. Still, the Huskers have played even their toughest opponents close, taking Wisconsin to overtime. And they will be looking for payback from their last-second loss in Lincoln.
Numbers to know
Tonight’s matchup versus Nebraska will be Thad Matta’s 456th game as head coach of the Buckeyes, tying him for first-place of most career games coached in program history. Matta will tie Harold G. Olsen, who coached at Ohio State from 1923-46 and recorded a 259-197 record. Through 455 games, Matta owns a 335-120 record , including a 168-71 mark in the Big Ten. His 148 regular season wins place Matta 13th all-time in conference wins. Matta became Ohio State’s winningest coach in 2015, and currently boasts the best all-time winning percentage (73.6 percent) among Ohio State coaches coaching more than one season.
Nebraska is one of the best teams in the country (20th in the category) in pulling down offensive rebounds, averaging more than 13 in a given matchup. Thompson is no slouch for Ohio State, grabbing 2.9 per game, but Nebraska’s Corey Jacobson has a Big Ten-best 3.2 offensive rebounds per game. Rebounding has kept things close for the Huskers throughout the season. For instance, Nebraska pulled down 20 offensive rebounds in their overtime loss to seventh-ranked Wisconsin, and overall the Huskers outrebounded the Badgers 50-37. However, in their first matchup against Ohio State, the Buckeyes owned the rebound margin by a 45-37 mark overall and 15-9 on offensive boards. Ohio State will need to control rebounding once again to limit Nebraska’s second-chance opportunities on offense.
The Huskers are second-worst in the conference in assists, averaging under 12 per game and beating out only Rutgers. Nebraska has done a poor job of controlling the ball, averaging 13 turnovers per game as well. In fact, senior guard Tai Webster leads the team, averaging just 4.2 assists per game with 3.1 turnovers. Ohio State, meanwhile, has averaged 14 assists per game on the season (eighth in the conference) to go along with 13 turnovers of their own. In their last outing, however, Nebraska had 10 assists to Ohio State’s 9, and seven turnovers to the Buckeyes’ 11.
Cast of characters
The senior forward has played, perhaps, the best basketball of his college career in the past couple months, showing passion and heart that he had previously been critiqued for lacking. The hero of Ohio State’s previous matchup with the Huskers, Loving had a cool head and made the crucial shot when it counted--but he has provided an improved presence for the Buckeyes beyond his last-second points. Loving has averaged 12.6 points per game on the season but, in his last five matchups, has upped that number to nearly 18 points per outing. He also had team highs against both Maryland (24) and Michigan State (22). Loving has truly emerged as a leader in recent weeks on and off the court, and his continued improvement has been a big reason Ohio State has kept things close against tough opponents.
The seven-foot center has been one of the Buckeyes’ most consistent performers in this inconsistent season. He is one of the best rebounders in the conference, pulling down 9.3 boards per game on average, and has been one of five Buckeyes averaging double-digit points on the season. However, the big man has come under severe pressure recently, fouling out of the last two games against Maryland and Michigan State and needing to sit on the bench while playing limited minutes. Thompson will need to avoid getting into foul trouble early in order to give Ohio State his needed presence on the court in crunch time.
A native of Auckland, New Zealand, Webster plays on the New Zealand national team in international competition. The 6-foot-4 point guard is third in the conference in scoring, averaging 17.8 points per game, and is the only senior on the Nebraska roster. Webster had 12 points against Penn State Tuesday. In his last outing against Ohio State, Webster had a team-high 18 points to go along with three assists. Despite leading his team in turnovers, he didn’t give the ball up at all against the Buckeyes. Ohio State will need to play physical and contain Webster to keep him from driving in the paint.
Lining up opposite Webster is fellow guard Glynn Watson. The six-foot sophomore led the Huskers in scoring against Penn State with 15 points on the night and is averaging 14 points per game on the season. The guard had just 10 points when he faced the Buckeyes in January, and fell down on point guard C.J. Jackson’s inbound to Marc Loving as he approached to defend the senior forward, leading to Ohio State’s game winning score. After the game, he tweeted “Worst feeling ever...let my team down.” The Buckeyes will need to similarly contain Watson, who will be looking for revenge against Ohio State for the Huskers’ home loss.
How to watch
Game time: 6 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM