Coming into Thursday night, the No. 23 Ohio State Buckeyes had a chance to do something they had not done since Dec. 7: possess an above .500 record in Big Ten play. After beginning the year a paltry 2-6 in conference play, OSU had battled all the way back to a much more respectable 8-8 heading into a road matchup with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Ohio State has had a very peculiar season. After beginning the year 11-1, the Bucks would go on to lose five of their seven games played in the month of January before being able to recollect themselves in February. OSU has won six of its last eight contests to get back to even heading into Lincoln on Thursday night, including an incredibly impressive victory over No. 7 Maryland last time out that moved them to 4-0 against the AP Top 10 this season.
Luther Muhammad led the way against the Terrapins with a season-high 22 points. The sophomore guard had his best game of the year, knocking down four 3-pointers in what would wind up a seven-point victory over the Big Ten’s top team. Kaleb Wesson “bullied” his way to a 15-point, nine-rebound performance, while Duane Washington Jr. added 13 points off the bench. As a team, Ohio State hit 10 shots from beyond the arc, moving them to 10-0 on the season when making 10+ 3-pointers in a game.
The next opponent on the docket were the Cornhuskers, who entered Thursday’s matchup at 7-20 on the year, and with a 2-14 record in the Big Ten good for second to last — ahead of only 1-15 Northwestern. Nebraska had lost a whopping 12 games in a row, including their first matchup against Ohio State in a 80-68 ballgame in Columbus back in early January. Would Chris Holtmann and the gang be able to take care of business the second time around?
Handle business they did, as Ohio State dominated from start to finish against the Huskers. Kaleb Wesson led all scorers with 16 points to go along with a whopping 18 rebounds in a double-double effort. CJ Walker added 15 points of his own while Duane Washington Jr. dropped 14 for the shorthanded Buckeyes. Despite missing a pair of forwards, OSU bullied Nebraska on the glass, out-rebounding the home squad 48-33. It was a quality effort at both ends of the floor en route to a 75-54 victory for the Scarlet and Gray.
Let’s take a look at some of the key numbers and statistics that led to Ohio State’s dominant victory at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The number of healthy scholarship players available for Ohio State.
Way before the game’s starting tip, Holtmann knew he was going to be in for a long night. That’s because a rash of injuries left Ohio State with only 10 healthy players on Thursday night — including a pair of walk-ons.
Kyle Young, who went down with an ankle sprain in the first half against Maryland and did not return, was originally listed as a game-time decision. Hours before the contest was scheduled to start, Young was ruled out. Averaging 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, the junior forward has been the spiritual leader of the Buckeyes with his high-energy style of play, and Holtmann would have to find other sources to fill his nearly 23 minutes per game.
One of those sources could have been Alonzo Gaffney, a freshman forward who has not seen much time this year. However, he too was listed out long before the game even tipped off with an illness. In addition to Gaffney and Young, D.J. Carton is still away from the team as he continues his leave of absence for a mental health issue, Musa Jallow is out for the year, and Justice Sueing is ineligible after transferring in from Cal. This left the Buckeyes incredibly shorthanded against the Huskers.
Consecutive shots missed by the Buckeyes over a stretch in the first half.
Despite leading by double-digits at halftime, Ohio State could have been up by a heck of a lot more if it weren’t for a dreadful stretch of about five minutes in the opening period. At the 10:50 mark in the first half, the Buckeyes were money from the field, hitting nine of their first 11 shots to start the contest. After a layup by E.J. Liddell put OSU up 26-12, it was beginning to look like a potential runaway game.
However, it was not to be, as OSU went exceptionally cold. The team would miss its next 11 shots from the field, including five layups and five 3-point attempts. The Bucks were able to get to the line a few times to minimize the damage, but would not hit another field goal until the 6:05 mark, as a layup by CJ Walker made it 32-18. Ohio State would close out the quarter hitting five of its last seven shots as it would take a 43-27 lead into the break despite the cold streak.
Blocks by Ohio State.
With Young out of the lineup, the Buckeyes were missing one of their tallest players on the roster that sees regular minutes. Luckily for the road team, Nebraska is a very small team in general, and Ohio State was able to take advantage at the defensive end.
As a unit, the Bucks were throwing a block party, coming up with a big nine swats against the Cornhuskers to tie a season-high. Liddell led the way with five blocks for OSU as he made the most of his extended minutes. Despite his slightly smaller stature for a forward at 6-foot-6, the freshman is incredibly strong and was able to dominate his matchups in the post and make it tough for cutters to get to the rim without significant resistance.
Overall, the nine blocks by Ohio State were the most by the team since, ironically, the last time these two teams met, when the Buckeyes came away with nine blocks against Nebraska on Jan. 14.
3-pointers made by Nebraska.
Ohio State came into the night as one of the worst teams in the conference in defending the arc. Tying with Wisconsin at the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of opposing 3-point field goal percentage, the Bucks have gotten beat from deep throughout the year. That was not the case on Thursday night.
Nebraska was able to knock down just three shots from downtown on 16 attempts — good for a strong 19 percent clip. While some of the 3-point woes can be attributed to the Huskers just not being a very good shooting team overall, they do rank about the middle of the pack in the conference in hitting from deep. Ohio State’s defense was great overall, but especially when it came to limiting opportunities from beyond the arc.
Ohio State’s all-time record against Nebraska.
While it is certainly a tale of two seasons between these two Big Ten programs, the success the Buckeyes had against Nebraska on Thursday was not just limited to this matchup. With this latest win, Ohio State moves to 18-4 all time against Nebraska.
The Bucks have won eight of the last nine meetings between the two schools, with OSU going 11-1 in meetings in which the Scarlet and Gray are ranked within the AP Top 25. Kaleb Wesson has faced Nebraska four times in his career, averaging a double-double.
Ohio State now enters an incredibly tough three-game stretch to end the regular season, with a date with the rival Michigan Wolverines in Columbus looming this Sunday, March 1. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast on CBS.