Men's basketball | Ohio State 63, Nebraska 56: Buckeyes let up late, but hang on for win
Ohio State's Aaron Craft drives between Nebraska’s Dylan Talley, left, and Andre Almeida.
LINCOLN, Neb. — In a season in which Ohio State has been most consistent at being inconsistent, why should last night have been any different?
Leading by 15 points with less than nine minutes to play against a Nebraska team that had won two Big Ten games, the 11th-ranked Buckeyes watched their lead get reduced to five in the final three minutes before escaping the Devaney Center with a 63-56 victory.
“We let up,” said guard Lenzelle Smith Jr., who led Ohio State (16-4, 7-2 Big Ten) with a season-high 21 points. “We were manhandling them the whole game and we got into a comfort zone and said, ‘Yeah, we won this game.’
“In the Big Ten, no game is won. As long as there’s time on the clock, there’s always a chance for a team to come back.”
Smith said the way the game played out at the end elicited a mixed message from coach Thad Matta in the locker room afterward.
“He said we didn’t play well. There are some things we’ve got to work on,” Smith said. “But we’re 7-2. We got the win. We did what we came here to do. But we’ve got to get better.”
The victory moved the Buckeyes into a tie for second place in the Big Ten halfway through the conference schedule.
Nebraska, which trailed 53-38 with less than nine minutes to play, crashed the offensive boards for second and third shots and got as close as 58-53 with 2:40 remaining. The Cornhuskers had three shots on their next possession to get closer, but none of them fell.
Smith and Aaron Craft made 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute to keep the Cornhuskers at bay.
“We could have gotten it to three late if we just tip one in,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “Who knows what could have happened then?”
Craft had 14 points, six assists, six rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal to help Smith take up the slack for Big Ten scoring leader Deshaun Thomas, who scored 15 points but missed 12 of 18 shots from the field.
The Buckeyes made 23 of 28 free throws and outscored Nebraska by 19 points at the line.
David Rivers scored 11 points in the second half and led Nebraska (11-11, 2-7) with 13. Dylan Talley scored 12 points and Ray Gallegos 11, but they missed 19 of 28 shots from the field.
Ohio State stretched a nine-point halftime lead to 53-38 with 9:05 left as Smith and Thomas combined for 12 points in the first eight minutes of the second half.
But after Miles called a timeout with 8:58 remaining, the Huskers responded by outscoring the Buckeyes 15-5 over the next 5:16. They had five offensive rebounds during that span and scored off two of them. They outscored Ohio State 8-0 on second-chance points in the second half.
But Matta said more at fault then the defense giving up second chances was an offense that put it in bad positions with mistakes.
“We weren’t clicking the way we needed to,” he said. “We come out of a timeout and we’ve got a read to make, the read was not there, so just pass it. We didn’t do that. We turn it over. Then we turn it over again.
“You can’t let those things affect the way you’re defending. But when you’re giving them easy (baskets), it’s hard.”
Craft said the Buckeyes need to “find a way” to correct the mistakes.
“But you’ve got to be happy with a road win in this league,” he said. “We found a way to stay on top and finish with a win.”