LINCOLN, Neb. — Aaron Craft stood outside the Ohio State locker room and listened to the same question, in essence, that he had heard after the previous two games.
Why? What’s wrong with the Buckeyes?
A small smile crossed his face. He still doesn’t have an answer.
“I don’t know,” Craft said. “We have to figure this out. I think we will. Sooner rather than later, hopefully.”
The free-falling Buckeyes, undefeated and ranked No. 3 two weeks ago, lost their fourth consecutive game last night, 68-62 to unranked Nebraska in Pinnacle Bank Arena.
They rallied from a 14-point deficit late in the first half to take the lead in the second, but they could not hold it as the Cornhuskers ended a five-game losing streak.
It is the first four-game losing streak for Ohio State since late in the 2007-08 season, and only the third in Thad Matta’s 10 years as Buckeyes coach.
What has changed with Matta’s team in the past two weeks?
“How much time do we have?” he said when that question was put to him afterward.
“You have to respect this league and know that it’s hard. We had a shot four games ago (at Michigan State), at the horn at the rim, to win in regulation. We had a nine-point lead (against Iowa) the next game in the second half and get beat. You come back and take the lead tonight.
“We need consistency. When we play ourselves back into it, when something doesn’t go well, I think the thing I see the most is we’re not able to answer the call. We’ve got to have some mental toughness to make the next play. Right now, we’re clinging on the mistakes. You’ve got to play forward.”
Craft led No.17 Ohio State (15-4 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) with 12 points, but he also had two key turnovers in the final five minutes that allowed Nebraska to take the lead for good and then extend it.
LaQuinton Ross added 11 points and Lenzelle Smith Jr. 10 for the Buckeyes.
Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway scored 18 points apiece for Nebraska (9-8, 1-4), which shot 50 percent from the field and scored 38 points in the paint. Ohio State’s past three opponents have combined for 120 points in the paint.
“They did a good job of putting their heads down and driving the basketball. They did a good job of finishing,” Matta said. “We got the ball to the rim and they wouldn’t go in for us. As I told the guys, we have to finish through contact.”
Ohio State trailed 34-20 and had given up 26 points in the paint when Matta benched 6-foot-11 Amir Williams with 2:17 left in the first half and went to a smaller lineup. The combination clicked as the Buckeyes scored the last five points of the half and started the second half with a 13-2 run to take a 38-36 lead. They forced 10 Nebraska turnovers in the 16-point turnaround.
Once the Cornhuskers stabilized their ballhandling, though, the Buckeyes struggled to score. They made one field goal in a span of nearly seven minutes as a 44-43 lead became a 49-46 deficit with 3:48 left.
Deverell Biggs stole the ball from Craft and scored on a layup to put Nebraska ahead for good, 47-46, with 4:42 to go, and the Huskers scored on 13 of their last 16 possessions. They made 16 of 19 free throws in the last two minutes.
Nebraska students stormed the floor after the Huskers’ first victory over a ranked team in two years.
“I’m just happy for our guys to be a part of that,” coach Tim Miles said. “They’ve done a lot of work. There has been a lot of frustration.”