Fresh off a nine-spot jump in the AP poll, the No. 13 Ohio State Buckeyes (18-4, 9-0) beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers (14-8, 5-4) 64-59 at Value City Arena on Monday night. Both games between the two teams last year were decided by a single point, with the road team winning each. This one would follow suit staying tight until the very end, but it was the home team that eventually prevailed.
As has become a bit of a mid-season trend, the Buckeyes opened up against the Huskers sloppy and cold. The two teams combined to hit only two of their first ten shots, and each had six turnovers in the first half. The officials also proved to be a bit of a factor in the game as well, calling 35 fouls in the game (Nebraska- 20, OSU- 15).
Freshman big man Kaleb Wesson found himself in foul trouble early, picking up two in the game’s first four minutes. With the younger Wesson on the bench, sophomore Micah Potter entered the game, and after an impressive performance against Northwestern last week, the finally-healthy forward has played well of late. However, the first-year OSU coach decided to follow Nebraska’s lead and go with a smaller lineup about halfway through the first half.
Much like Minnesota did on Saturday, the Huskers raced out to an early lead, holding a 14-7 advantage eight minutes into the game. James Palmer Jr. paced Nebraska with seven early points. The two teams struggled from the field in the first half; Nebraska was 8-28 (28.6%) and OSU was 9-25 (36%).
With Kaleb Wesson back in the floor after his foul-induced rest, on an Andrew Dakich miss from deep, the freshman got the rebound and went back up strong. He didn’t get the bucket, but he did force Husker sophomore Jordy Tshimanga into his third early foul of the game. Wesson hit both free-throws, and was then replaced by Potter, trying to spell Wesson as much as possible until the second half.
During the first 20 minutes, senior Jae’Sean Tate was incredibly aggressive in taking the ball to the hoop. The Pickerington native accounted for seven of OSU’s firs 15 points. He was also a force on the defensive end and glass.
Big mood:— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) January 23, 2018
Jae'Sean Tate pulling down a board then hitting 'em with a Walter Payton mule-kick pic.twitter.com/OYGdRbeTBU
After a timeout, Nebraska went into a 1-3-1 zone. Zone defenses have proven to be a thorn in Ohio State’s offensive side throughout the season. However, C.J. Jackson found Keita Bates-Diop for a monstrous backdoor, alley-oop slam dunk to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the game, albeit short-lived.
On the subsequent possession, Palmer Jr. got a layup to give the Huskers their first basket in nearly six-and-a-half minutes, and then the Nebraska defense returned to the man-to-man scheme that they had employed for most of the half.
The Buckeyes retook the lead off of a smooth reverse layup from Jackson. After a Palmer Jr. bucket on the other end, Tate found Jackson at the top of the key to give OSU a 24-22 lead with the Bucks’ first three-pointer of the game. They ended the first 20 minutes just 1-of-8 from behind the arc. The Huskers hit just two of their 15 triple attempts in the first half.
Tate went into the locker room with seven, while Bates-Diop and Kaleb Wesson had six, and Jackson turned in five. However, no other Buckeyes made it into the scoring column before intermission. Similarly, Nebraska was led by Palmer Jr.’s 11, but just three Huskers combined for the team’s other 11 points of the half.
After converting on an old-fashioned three-point play early in the second half, Kaleb Wesson was whistled for this third foul of the game, but Holtmann decided to stick with last year’s Mr. Ohio Basketball. He ended up hitting another free-throw before being replaced by Kyle Young. The younger Wesson brother was the Buckeyes’ most complete player for much of the early part of the game, turning in 10 points and six boards, both team highs, before his 16:26 exit. Saddled with foul trouble throughout, Wesson finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
With 13:16 left in regulation, Young stepped on Tate’s foot as they were crossing on defense, and Tate had to exit the game and would be taken to the locker room. He would return a few minutes later. On the first play after Dakich replaced Tate, the graduate-transfer found a breaking Young for a deep, impressive alley-oop, but Young couldn’t convert and the ball ended up wedged in between the rim and the backboard, resulting in an unfortunate jump-ball.
A few minutes later, Nebraska used a mini-run, hitting 6-of-8, to tie the game at 38 on a Palmer Jr. layup. Even though he wasn’t nearly as perfect as he has been through much of the season, Bates-Diop scored six straight points for the Buckeyes to rebuild their lead, and he wouldn’t stop there. The fourth-year junior finished with 20 points and six rebounds.
With just under 10 minutes in the half, Kaleb Wesson picked up his fourth foul, prompting Holtmann to replace the freshman with his older brother, Andre.
After being evaluated in the locker room, Tate returned to the game, but Palmer Jr. continued his career night and hit back-to-back three-pointers to give Nebraska a 49-46 lead with 6:54, leading Holtmann to call a timeout. The output marked a new career high for the Nebraska junior.
Again, when the Buckeyes were in trouble, they turned to their best player. In the span of 40 seconds, KBD hit two buckets and blocked a shot to get OSU’s lead back. Then, back down by one, Bates-Diop found Andre Wesson for a corner-three. With 3:29 remaining in regulation, KBD had accounted for 14 second half points—doing his part in swinging the lead back to the home team, 55-54.
What had been a tedious affair for most of the game picked up energy and intensity late, with both teams going up and down the floor, finally finding quality shots.
As the game wound down, other Buckeyes began to come to Bates-Diop’s aid, as Tate hit a pair of free-throws and picked up a steal, and Jackson converted on the old-fashioned three-point play to put OSU up six points with 2:10 remaining.
After a pair of Palmer Jr. free-throws, Kaleb Wesson returned to the floor with four fouls, and he drew a foul on his first offensive possession—but couldn’t hit the front-end of his 1-and-1.
On offense, the Buckeyes—clinging to a four-point lead—looked to drain some clock, and at the end of the shot clock, Tate hit a layup over Isaiah Roby, who had been knocked down by a backing-up Kaleb Wesson. The bucket gave OSU the 62-56 lead with a minute remaining.
ALL HAIL JAE'SEAN TATE pic.twitter.com/VlBmqtxWma— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) January 23, 2018
Kaleb Wesson next hit a pair of free throws to give the Buckeyes an 11-2 run, effectively icing the game for the home team.
The basketball Buckeyes will return to the court on Thursday, Jan. 25 at the Schott against Penn State. The second of four-straight home games will tip at 8 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.