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Ohio State men’s basketball vs. Nebraska: Game preview and prediction

The Buckeyes head to Lincoln tonight to try and snap a four-game losing streak.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday we saw Ohio State (10-7, 2-4) drop another close game, with the 68-64 loss in overtime at Rutgers extending the losing streak of the Buckeyes to four games. Ohio State has a chance to get back in the win column tonight when they travel to Lincoln to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-9, 2-5), who sit just below the Buckeyes in the Big Ten standings.

Sunday’s game was a tough watch at times. The first basket of the game wasn’t scored until four minutes in by Caleb McConnell of Rutgers. The Buckeyes found a bit of rhythm shortly after, building a 15-4 lead with just over 11 minutes left in the first half. Ohio State would again go cold from the field to close out the first half, scoring just eight points the rest of the period, and just three points in the final eight minutes, heading into halftime with a 23-20 lead.

Much like their first meeting with Rutgers in December, Sunday’s game was tight throughout the second half, with the biggest lead being 44-38 by the Buckeyes with 10:45 left. The lead changed hands numerous times in the second half, with most of the period seeing the score separated by no more than three points.

The game eventually went to overtime. The Buckeyes gained a 61-60 lead with a little less than two minutes left after two free throws from Brice Sensabaugh, whose 20 points led the Buckeyes. Rutgers responded 16 seconds later with a layup from Cliff Omoruyi, which gave the Scarlet Knights the lead for good. Mawot Mag added a little bit of cushion to the lead when he hit a three-pointer with 38 seconds left to give the Scarlet Knights a 65-61 lead. Rutgers would go on to earn a 68-64 victory over the Buckeyes, splitting the regular season series between the schools.

There was a bit of a surprise in Ohio State’s starting lineup on Sunday when Brice Sensabaugh wasn’t included in the starting five. Sensabaugh still had a huge impact on the game, scoring a team-high 20 points in 29 minutes. The freshman also secured 11 rebounds in the loss, recording a double-double for the second straight game. Sensabaugh is currently leading the Buckeyes with 16.9 points per game.

Also coming off the pine in the game was Zed Key, who is still dealing with a shoulder injury that he suffered in the loss to Purdue nearly two weeks ago. After missing the Maryland game, Key returned for the Minnesota, and has now come off the bench in each of the last two games. Key played 28 minutes, finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds.

Ohio State needed every point they could get from Sensabaugh and Key since the starters contributed very little scoring. Sean McNeil was the only Buckeye starter to reach double figures in the loss to the Scarlet Knights, shooting 3-of-12 from the field and finishing with 11 points. Justice Sueing was 3-of-10 with his field goal attempts, while Issac Likekele missed all five of his shot attempts.


Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ohio State has dominated the series with Nebraska, holding a 20-5 record over the Cornhuskers. That doesn’t mean that tonight’s game will be an automatic win for the Buckeyes, since Nebraska has played them tough recently. Last year the Cornhuskers took Ohio State to overtime in Lincoln before Malaki Branham led the Buckeyes to victory. The win was the fifth-straight road victory over Nebraska by the Buckeyes.

The return game in Columbus is one Ohio State will want to forget. The game was originally supposed to be on Jan. 22, but was postponed and rescheduled for March 1. The game was squeezed into an already busy section of the schedule for Ohio State, and it was clear the Buckeyes didn’t have the energy needed to win the game. The 78-70 win by Nebraska was Fred Hoiberg’s first win over a ranked team as head coach of the Cornhuskers.

Nebraska enters tonight’s game with a 2-5 record in Big Ten play. The Cornhuskers have lost their last two conference games, with the most recent being a 73-55 setback at Purdue on Friday night. Fred Hoiberg’s team was shorthanded against the Boilermakers, playing without Sam Griesel and Juwan Gray. Nebraska never led in the game, and never really threatened Purdue. Zach Edey pulled down 13 rebounds in the victory, which was just six fewer rebounds than the Cornhuskers had as a team.

Derrick Walker paced Nebraska with 19 points, and the Tennessee transfer is leading the team with 14.1 points per game. Walker also is averaging 7.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, making him one of 12 players in the country averaging at least 14 points, seven rebounds, and three assists per game.

Sam Griesel is the only other Cornhusker averaging double figures in scoring, with the guard netting 11.1 points per game. The North Dakota State transfer missed Nebraska’s last game, but Hoiberg is expecting the senior guard to be available to play tonight against the Buckeyes. Prior to the injury, Griesel had scored at least 10 points in each of his last five games.

While Griesel is expected to be able to play, the outlook for Juwan Gary isn’t nearly as good. The Alabama transfer was averaging 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game before he suffered a shoulder injury against Illinois that limited him to 16 minutes in the 76-50 loss last Tuesday. With Gary injured, Wilhelm Breidenbach made the first start of his career on Friday night against Purdue.

A couple other transfers have played a key role for Nebraska this season. Emmanuel Bandoumel came to Lincoln as a grad transfer from SMU. Over the last two seasons, Bandoumel averaged double digits in scoring for the Mustangs, putting home 10.2 points per game in the 2020-21 season, and 10.6 points per game last year. This year, Bandoumel’s scoring has dipped a bit, as he is averaging 8.9 points, but he is averaging a career-high 5.1 rebounds per game.

Sophomore guard C.J. Wilcher started his career at Xavier, appearing in 15 games for the Musketeers in the 2020-21 season before transferring to Nebraska. After starting just two of the 32 games he played in last year, Wilcher has started all 18 contests for the Cornhuskers this year, and is averaging 8.7 points per game. While Wilcher has struggled of late, failing to reach double figures in scoring in seven of his last eight games, he can go off at any time.

Wilcher scored 21 points earlier this year in a win over Omaha, and last month he scored 22 points in a loss to Indiana in Bloomington.


NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Even though it’s never easy to go on the road and win in the Big Ten, Ohio State has already done so in 2023, easily handling Northwestern 73-57 on the first evening of the year. It’s hard to imagine the Buckeyes having a ton of trouble with the Cornhuskers tonight, especially with Nebraska expected to be without Gary. While Griesel will return to the lineup, it is unknown if there will be any limitations when it comes to the amount of time he will be available to play.

One thing Ohio State has to do in this game is have some urgency. If the Buckeyes happen to slip tonight, it could be a few weeks before Chris Holtmann’s team gets another win. The schedule for Ohio State coming up is pretty brutal, with Iowa coming to Columbus on Saturday, followed by trips to Illinois and Indiana next week. The Buckeyes desperately need a win here to try and get some momentum headed in the right direction after a number of close losses lately.

Sensabaugh is playing at a high level right now, but he needs some help. Key has been gutting it out of late off the bench as he has dealt with a shoulder injury. While Sueing has been fine up until last game, McNeil and Likekele need to step up a little more than what we saw against Rutgers. The performance from Likekele was especially concerning because Holtmann reinserted him into the starting lineup to try and spark his play some, but the Oklahoma State transfer gave the team very little on the floor offensively.

Even though you can’t count Nebraska out, especially with how tough they’ve played Ohio State lately, it is going to take a huge effort from Derrick Walker and the rest of the Cornhuskers to win their second straight game against the Buckeyes. If Ohio State gets back to basics and plays fundamental basketball, they should be able to breathe easy in the second half, which is something they haven’t been able to do lately.

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 76.3%
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network

LGHL score prediction: Ohio State 71, Nebraska 58