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

The Buckeyes will look to build off of Saturday’s win over Penn State, hitting the road tonight to battle Nebraska.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

After snapping their three-game losing streak with a 79-67 win over Penn State on Saturday in Columbus, Ohio State (13-5, 3-4) will hit the road for its next two games. The first of those contests takes place tonight in Lincoln, when the Buckeyes square off with the Nebraska Cornhuskers (14-5, 4-4), who also halted a losing streak with a win on Saturday. Nebraska had dropped two straight games before beating Northwestern 75-69.

Following annual January struggles under head coach Chris Holtmann, the start to Saturday’s game against Penn State was massive for the confidence of the Buckeyes. Ohio State began Saturday’s game by putting the Nittany Lions in a 16-0 hole, marking the second straight game the Buckeyes have reeled off a 16-0 run. After taking a 33-19 lead into the halftime break, Ohio State kept Penn State at bay over the final 20 minutes of the game, leading by double digits for pretty much the whole second half.

Powering the Buckeyes to victory was Evan Mahaffey, who was a thorn in the side of his former team on Saturday, finishing with a career-high 16 points, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. Along with Mahaffey, Roddy Gayle Jr. was able to shake off some recent struggles, matching Mahaffey’s scoring total while adding five assists. Felix Okpara not only blocked at least one shot for the 24th straight game, he pulled down 14 rebounds, marking the fourth time this season he has grabbed at least 10 rebounds in a game.

Mahaffey wasn’t the only Ohio State transfer who had one of his better games in the scarlet and gray on Saturday. Dale Bonner scored seven points and had a season-high six rebounds. Lately the transfer from Baylor had been stuck on the bench, playing just 48 minutes in the previous four games.

Prior to Saturday’s contest, head coach Chris Holtmann announced Scotty Middleton was suspended due to a violation of team rules. With Middleton not part of the team’s rotation against the Nittany Lions, Bonner saw an uptick in time on the floor, playing 25 minutes in the game.

The performances from Mahaffey and Bonner were much needed on Saturday, not only because of the loss of Middleton to suspension. Starting guard Bruce Thornton had a game to forget against the Nittany Lions. Thornton hit just one of the nine shots he attempted, finishing with three points in the victory. Even with the low scoring output last time out, Thornton is still pacing the Buckeyes, averaging 16.0 points per game.

Sitting just behind Thornton in scoring are Jamison Battle and Gayle, with both recording at least 14 points per contest.


Preview

For the most part Ohio State has dominated the series with Nebraska, posting a 20-6 record against the Cornhuskers. Lately Fred Hoiberg’s team has shown a lot of fight against the Buckeyes, winning the last two meetings. Back in March 2022, Nebraska beat Ohio State 78-70 in Columbus, and last January the Cornhuskers won the lone meeting of the year between the schools 63-60 in Lincoln when Sean McNeill’s game-tying three-point attempt at the buzzer didn’t fall.

Earlier in January, Nebraska shocked top-ranked Purdue 88-72 in Lincoln. Following the win over the Boilermakers, the Cornhuskers dropped their next two games on the road to Iowa and Rutgers before returning home to beat Northwestern on Saturday. With the victory over the Wildcats, the Cornhuskers secured their best start through 19 games since they started the 1995-96 season 15-4. Nebraska has been especially tough at home this season, posting a 12-1 record at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

With their solid start to the season, Nebraska is trying to put themselves in position to earn their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2014. The Cornhuskers are still looking for their first-ever NCAA Tournament win. One reason for the improved play from Nebraska this year has been their increased offensive output. So far this year the Cornhuskers are averaging 78.3 points per game, which is their highest scoring average since the 1995-96 season when they scored 80.2 points per game.

The scoring numbers from Nebraska this year has been helped by the frequency the Cornhuskers have been able to get to the free throw line this year. The +91 free throw difference Nebraska has over their opponents this year ranks fourth in the Big Ten. The 299 free throws the Cornhuskers have netted through 19 games is just five less than the 304 free throws Nebraska has allowed their opponents to attempt.

Powering the Nebraska offense are a quartet of scorers that are averaging at least 10 points per game this season. Fifth-year senior Keisei Tominaga is the team’s leading scorer, posting 14.5 points per game average. Brice Williams enters tonight’s game averaging 13.3 points per game, Bradley transfer Rienk Mast is scoring 12.5 points per game, while also averaging 8.4 rebounds per game. Juwan Gray is the final double-digit scorer, netting 11.7 points per contest — although the junior big man is questionable for this game with a calf strain. Senior forward Josiah Allick started in Gary’s place in Nebraska’s last game.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Former Xavier transfer C.J. Wilcher has been thriving in his role of giving the Cornhuskers energy off the bench, averaging 8.5 points per game. In the win over Northwestern, Wilcher scored 10 points, marking the seventh time in the last ten games where he reached double figures in scoring.


Prediction

To win tonight’s game, Ohio State is going to have to be tough both physically and mentally. Nebraska plays at a high level at home, as evidenced by their 12-1 record at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Buckeyes desperately need to win tonight’s game if they have any designs on making it back to the NCAA Tournament since their schedule the rest of the regular season is loaded with a bunch of tough games in the Big Ten.

With how hard it is to win on the road in the conference, a victory in Lincoln tonight would help to continue to shift some of Ohio State’s confidence after a tough start to January. What would go a long way in helping Ohio State to secure a second straight victory is the continued strong play of some of the bench players of the Buckeyes.

The unit took a hit with the suspension on Saturday of Scotty Middleton, but a number of players stepped up to help a short-handed bench. Not only did Evan Mahaffey and Dale Bonner have big performances in the victory over Penn State, freshman Devin Royal continued his recent strong play, as he has now scored a total of 15 points over the last two games.

Middleton will return to play tonight against the ‘Huskers, and he and the rest of Ohio State’s bench will need to continue to bring juice into the game if the Buckeyes are going to win one (or both) of this week’s road games.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The last three games between the schools have been decided by eight points or less, and it feels like that trend should continue tonight. The Cornhuskers are a different animal at home, so the Buckeyes are going to have their work cut out for them if they want to hand Nebraska their second loss in Lincoln this season. It’s not like the atmosphere should rattle Ohio State though, since they have played some very tough opponents this year in hostile environments.

Even though there is still more than a month left in the college basketball regular season, this has the feel of an NCAA Tournament game since both teams will be fighting to stay off the bubble.


ESPN BPI: Nebraska 61.0%
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Peacock

LGHL score prediction: Ohio State 74, Nebraska 71