After a promising 12-1 start to the season, Ohio State has now dropped five games in a row as they find themselves near the bottom of the conference standings at 2-5 in Big Ten play and 12-6 overall. Despite yet another loss their last time out, the Buckeyes looked promising at times and will look to bring it all together when they head on the road Saturday to take on Nebraska (13-6, 3-5). The game is schedule for a noon tipoff on Fox Sports 1.
Ohio State played the wrong team at the wrong time in their last contest as they fell to a scorching hot Purdue team 79-67 on their own home floor. While the final score may seem as though the Buckeyes were completely overmatched, there were some bright spots for the guys in Scarlet. One of those bright spots was Andre Wesson, who had a career game against the Boilermakers. The junior forward scored a career-high 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field while going 4-of-5 from three-point range.
Wesson’s scoring outburst was part of an unusual plan of attack in the second period that cut a 14 point deficit to just two with 10 minutes remaining. After Kaleb Wesson picked up his fourth foul early in the half, Ohio State did not have the injured Kyle Young to take his place. Instead, Chris Holtmann rolled out a small ball lineup consisting of Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, C.J. Jackson, Justin Ahrens and Musa Jallow — the tallest player on the floor being Wesson at 6-foot-6.
Despite being greatly outsized by Purdue, who featured 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms, the Buckeyes were able to go on a 16-6 scoring run with this smaller and more athletic lineup on the floor. In total, from when Kaleb Wesson was subbed out following his fourth foul to the team cutting the deficit to two, Ohio State knocked down six three-pointers — a part of their game that has struggled mightily during this losing streak. Unfortunately for the Bucks, from that point on the shooting went cold again and Carsen Edwards and the rest of the Boilermakers were too much to handle down the stretch.
While the end result was yet another loss, Holtmann may have discovered something about his team that can benefit them moving forward. Kaleb Wesson is obviously important to Ohio State, leading the team with 15.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. However, with Wesson on the floor, the offensive game plan has become one dimensional and as a result the team is unable to space the floor and get quality shots from behind the arc. The Buckeyes shot 45 percent from three against Purdue, their highest percentage over the current losing streak. If Holtmann can find a good mixture of utilizing Wesson as an interior scoring machine while also being able to go small and create spacing for his guards to shoot, they should be able to find their way back into the win column.
Taking a look at the other team in this matchup, we have a Nebraska squad that has struggled quite a bit themselves. At 3-5 in Big Ten play, they have lost four of their last six games, with all four losses being to teams Ohio State has lost to during their skid — Maryland, Iowa, Michigan State and Rutgers. In their last time out, they fell to the Scarlet Knights 76-69 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Senior guard James Palmer Jr. dropped 22, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Montez Mathis’ career-high 20 points and nine boards as well as a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double from Myles Johnson.
After taking down No. 25 Indiana and losing a close game to No. 6 Michigan State the Cornhuskers fell to a 9-9 Rutgers squad. Much like the Buckeyes, their season has been full of twists and turns as they continue to search for an identity in 2019. However, while Ohio State is full of young guys getting their feet wet in Division I basketball, the Huskers are quite the opposite. Nebraska has been led by the senior Palmer, who on the season is averaging 19.4 points per game. In fact, the Huskers’ top-three leading scorers in Palmer, Isaac Copeland (14.3 PPG) and Glynn Watson Sr. (13.2 PPG) are all seniors. As a team, Nebraska averages just over two years of experience per player — the 34th most in the nation.
Palmer has been nothing short of fantastic for the Cornhuskers this season. Of Nebraska’s 16 different 20-point performances by players this season, Palmer owns 10 of them, including each of his last two games. He had just eight 20-point games all of last season. As a unit, the Huskers’ 1.39 assist-to-turnover ratio is on pace to be one of the best marks in school history, currently ranking 29th nationally. Despite recent struggles, Nebraska is still averaging a +15.1 scoring margin on the year, scoring 77.2 points per game while allowing just 62.1. They are pretty good on the defensive end, averaging 8.5 steals and 4.6 blocks per game.
ESPN BPI: Nebraska 79%
Vegas Line: N/A
Ohio State has done quite well in the past against Nebraska, leading the all-time series 15-4. In Lincoln, the Buckeyes have still come away victorious more often than not, owning a 5-2 advantage on the road in this matchup. OSU has won five of the last six contests between the two schools, including a 64-59 win in Columbus last season despite Palmer scoring a career-high 34.
The Buckeyes need to win this one bad, as each addition loss pushes them farther and farther away from hopes of making the NCAA Tournament. They were able to find some things that worked last game, but were unable to put it all together over the last 10 minutes of the game and would fall by double-digits anyway. For Ohio State to have any chance at coming away with a road victory to end the skid, they will have to play good team basketball for a full 40 minutes.
Nebraska is a veteran group with a number of great scoring options. For an OSU team that has been incredibly shaky on defense of late, it will be quite a tall task to contain the Cornhuskers on their home floor. Ohio State will keep it close and even have a lead in the closing minutes of the game, but in the end Nebraska’s experience will overcome the Buckeyes’ youth as OSU is just unable to get clutch baskets down the stretch. Ohio State inches closer, but the losing streak extends to six.