Home court was a welcomed sight on Tuesday night, as the Ohio State Buckeyes mens basketball team returned from a tough two-game road trip having played four of its last five games away from Columbus. Chris Holtmann’s group was looking to end a brutal stretch that saw his team drop four in a row, including back-to-back conference losses against Maryland and Indiana.
It is not an easy task to win a basketball game in the Big Ten these days, especially on the road. As a whole, B1G road teams were a combined 5-32 on the year heading into tonight’s slate — the most recent victim being the top-ranked team in the conference Michigan State suffering a blowout 71-42 loss at Purdue. No team in the league is safe, and underdogs continue to drop big favorites as they try to find ways to win away from home.
Ohio State hoped to stop its four-game skid on Tuesday night, and would try to capitalize on the Big Ten’s home dominance when they welcomed a 7-9 Nebraska team to Value City Arena, where they Buckeyes themselves held a 9-1 record on the year. All of the records and trends seemingly favored OSU, as the Cornhuskers entered play with an 0-4 record in true road games this season and a 1-8 record all time against the Scarlet and Gray in Columbus. But would things play out that way on the court?
The numbers would wind up playing out as presented for OSU. CJ Walker made the most of an increased role, leading all scorers with 18 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists as he led Ohio State to a 80-68 victory, helping his team finally earn a win in 2020. The Buckeyes were able to move the ball well while limiting the turnovers, and with six different players scoring in double-figures, the Scarlet and Gray were able to bust out of their slump and end an ugly losing streak.
Let’s take a look at some things we learned in this latest edition of Ohio State hoops.
Problems off the court
Before any basketball was even played on Tuesday night, Ohio State was down two players. OSU Associate Athletic Communications Director Dan Wallenberg announced via Twitter that head coach Chris Holtmann had suspended sophomore guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. for the Nebraska game for a “failure to meet program standards and expectations.”
While it isn’t clear exactly what it was that got the pair suspended, their struggles on the court during this losing streak have been well documented. Last time out against Indiana, Washington was benched after playing just eight minutes. At his press conference on Monday, Holtmann described the sophomore’s effort and attention to detail as “really poor.” Ohio State’s second-leading scorer, Washington has shot under 29 percent during the four-straight losses.
Muhammad has been even worse, shooting a paltry 16 percent from the field during the losing streak and was just 1-of-12 shooting in the team’s last two games. The second-year guard was removed from the starting lineup for the first time all season against the Hoosiers. Muhammad has also not been distributing the ball all that well, having just two total assists compared to four turnovers over the last three games.
Andre the Giant
One of the lone bright spots of this Ohio State team the past few weeks has been the play of Andre Wesson, and that was no more true than against the Huskers. After the Buckeyes missed their first five shots of the game, the senior forward was able to get the lid off the basket when he knocked down his first attempt of the night — a triple. Wesson would drain back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in less than a minute to really get the ball rolling down at that end.
Offense had been hard to come by during the losing streak, but not for the elder Wesson brother. Not including tonight’s performance, the forward shot 14-of-26 from the floor over the past three games, including 6-of-11 shooting from deep. Wesson has been doing it all despite the team’s struggles as a whole, averaging just under 13 points and six rebounds with over two assists per game over that same stretch. Tonight against Nebraska, the senior finished with 11 points, three rebounds and three assists.
With the Cornhuskers putting a heavy focus defensively on his brother Kaleb Wesson, Andre needed to come up big, and was able to do just that. Wesson would come out of the game late in the second period after taking a shot to the face, but would return a short while later.
There has been a very clear similarity in the box score of all five of Ohio State’s losses this season: a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. Three times this season the Buckeyes have had less than 10 assists in a game — two of those three have been losses, and both of those losses were on this recent poor stretch. OSU does not have a ton of players who are incredibly adept at creating their own shot, so poor ball movement has really hampered the team’s ability to put points on the board.
Ohio State had not had a single positive assist-to-turnover ratio over its four-game losing streak, beginning with a putrid 10 assists to 21 turnovers against West Virginia and sitting at a 38-to-64 ratio overall during the skid. They were finally able to get on the right side of things against Nebraska, moving the ball well and resulting in 17 assists to 12 turnovers. After recording fewer than 10 assists in two of their last three games, the Buckeyes were finally able to break double-digits as they were able to find the open man and make some nice clean cuts to the hoop resulting in easy baskets.
D.J. Carton led the way with five assists, while CJ Walker trailed right behind with four.
Magic number 60
Through the team’s first 12 games of the season, Ohio State did not once score under 60 points. As a result, they were 11-1 with only one tough road loss to Minnesota on a bad shooting night. Over the four-game losing streak, the Buckeyes did not reach the 60-point plateau once, with the 59-point outing against the Mountaineers actually their biggest output of the skid. It may not come as a surprise to you, but scoring in the mid-50s in a college basketball game just isn’t going to cut it on most nights.
OSU was able to blast past that mark against Nebraska, finally getting a good shooting performance from its players across the board. The 80 points scored against the Cornhuskers is the most the Buckeyes have scored in a game since scoring 80 against Southeast Missouri State on Dec. 17. As a unit, Ohio State shot 55 percent from the field, and an impressive 45 percent from downtown.
Some unfamiliar faces
With Muhammad and Washington out of the lineup, Holtmann had some extra minutes to throw around on Tuesday night, and he was rewarded with a few high-quality efforts from guys that don't usually light up a box score.
Justin Ahrens was able to work his way into a bit of an increased role, scoring five points on 2-of-3 shooting with a rebound, and even Danny Hummer was able to get some of his first non-garbage time minutes of the season. E.J. Liddell had one of his better games as a Buckeye to date, scoring 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting with two boards.
Then there were the guys who have played a lot this season, but still put up bigger numbers than usual. Walker played increased minutes with OSU missing two guards, and it resulted in a season-high 18 points for the Florida State transfer. In his second game back from appendix surgery, Kyle Young looked to be back to his normal self, scoring 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting and five rebounds as the high-intensity forward made his presence felt at both ends of the floor. Carton didn’t shoot particularly well, but did finish with 13 points.
The team’s usual leading scorer, Kaleb Wesson, finished with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting with a whopping 14 rebounds.