Ohio State’s January of misery in Big Ten play continued as the Buckeyes dropped a 68-62 decision at Nebraska, which had been winless in Big Ten play.
Ohio State (15-4, 2-4) lost its fourth straight game – its longest losing streak since the NIT championship season of 2007-08. The Buckeyes return home to face Illinois Thursday as they will look to avoid their first five-game losing streak since a 17-game losing streak in the 8-22 season of 1997-98.
This was a Nebraska team Ohio State drilled 84-53 just 16 days ago in Columbus. But the Buckeyes’ offensive issues continued to plague them. They hit 40 percent of their shots, including just 28.6 percent of their threes (6 of 21). OSU fell behind by as many as 14 in the first half and rallied in the second to take the lead before faltering down the stretch.
Asked what has changed for his team the last two weeks, OSU coach Thad Matta said, “How much time do we have? I think this, you have to respect this league and know that it’s hard. We had a shot at the rim four games ago (at Michigan State) at the horn to win. We had a nine-point lead in the next game (against Iowa) in the second half and get beat.
“You come back and take the lead tonight. We need consistency. When something doesn’t go well, the thing I don’t see is the ability to come back and have mental toughness to make the next play. We are clinging on the mistakes. You have to play forward.”
Nebraska (9-8, 1-4) had lost its last five games and had not won since beating The Citadel on Dec. 21. The Huskers came away with their first-ever Big Ten win at Pinnacle Bank Arena. They snapped a 15-game losing streak to ranked opponents.
Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway each had 18 points to lead Nebraska, which also got 11 points from Deverell Biggs. The Huskers hit 76.9 percent of their free throws (20 of 26) to put it away down the stretch. Joyous Nebraska students and fans stormed the floor after the win.
“I think I am going to go jump around,” said Nebraska coach Tim Miles as the celebration continued.
Aaron Craft had 12 points and seven rebounds to lead Ohio State. LaQuinton Ross had 11 points, while Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 10. Ross and Smith were each 4 of 12 from the floor.
Ohio State dropped from 11th to 17th in this week’s AP poll released earlier on Monday. The Buckeyes also fell from ninth to 15th in this week’s USA Today coaches poll.
Other than the one protracted first-half run Nebraska had and the second-half run Ohio State had, this was a close game. There were five ties and 15 lead changes. But Nebraska outscored OSU 23-16 in the final five minutes to get the win.
“We played great in the first half and then they just came and attacked us in the second half,” Miles said. “Our guys weren’t sure if they were ready to compete. But I give them credit for hanging in during that big run Ohio State had. We went small to match up what they did and I think it helped to have our ballhandlers in the game.”
It was a miserable first half for Ohio State, which fell behind by as many as 14 points late in the half. OSU rallied to cut that Nebraska lead to 34-25 at the intermission.
OSU shot just 32 percent from the floor (8 of 25). The Buckeyes were outscored 26-6 in the paint and Nebraska got 14 of its 34 points off OSU’s seven turnovers. Shields had 10 points to lead Nebraska, which shot 56 percent (15 of 27) from the floor.
“They did a good job of putting their heads down and driving the basketball,” Matta said. “They finished well. They made a couple stepbacks and some floaters. It was that kind of night. We got the ball to the rim and they didn’t go in for us.
“We are putting so much heat on our defense every time down the floor ... somehow some way.”
This was a tight game for the first 13 minutes as there were three ties and nine lead changes in that stretch. The Buckeyes’ last lead of the half came at 19-18 when Amedeo Della Valle hit a three off a pass from Ross with 7:25 left in the half.
But the Buckeyes then went the next 6-1/2 minutes without a field goal and were outscored 16-2 in that stretch. In that drought, the Buckeyes missed seven straight shots from the floor and had four turnovers.
Nebraska regained the lead on a three-point play by Shields. Shields then drove for a layup, Deverell Biggs converted an OSU turnover into a layup, Shields had another layup, Leslee Smith scored inside and Petteway completed a three-point play. Finally, Smith converted an Amir Williams turnover into a layup and a 34-20 lead with 2:18 left in the half.
OSU’s Shannon Scott broke the drought by driving for a layup to cut it to 34-23 with 54 seconds left. Ross was fouled with 2.8 seconds left. His two free throws cut the halftime deficit to 34-25.
Ohio State came out strong to start the second half with improvement at both ends. The Buckeyes went on a 13-2 run to start the second half and take the lead.
“I thought our defense the last four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half was really good,” Matta said. “We were active, we were deflecting passes and we weren’t giving layups up. We had a pretty decent flow offensively there in the second half.
“But for whatever reason we had some shots at the rim ... as I told our guys, we have to be able to finish through contact and get some and-ones.”
OSU played the end of the first half and all of the second without either of their big men, Williams or Trey McDonald.
“I wanted some offense,” Matta said. “To be honest with you, we got clipped on some ball screens in the first half that can’t happen. That put a lot of pressure on our bigs. We have to do a better job of pushing up into the ball and defend the ball screen situation better to open up the game.”
Smith got it started by rebounding his own miss and then hit a one-hander in the lane. Craft hit 1 of 2 free throws. Ross made a spinning bank shot. Ross took a Smith feed for a layup before Craft drove for back-to-back layups and a 38-36 lead with 14:43 left in the game.
Petteway then scored five straight with a layup and a three for the Huskers to go back up 41-38 with 13:28 left.
The Buckeyes regained the lead as Scott drove and lobbed it to Thompson for an alley oop before Scott fed Ross for a layup and a 44-43 lead with 10:16 left in the game.
The lead then went back and forth three times before NU’s Shields was fouled on a drive with 3:48 left. He made two free throws for a 49-46 NU lead.
OSU’s Ross then drove and was fouled. He made 1 of 2 free throws to cut it to 49-47. The teams traded misses before NU’s Petteway drove and hit a high bank shot for a 51-47 lead with 2:21 left.
Craft was fouled with 2:08 left and made both free throws to cut it to 51-49 left. Scott fouled NU’s Tai Webster. Webster made both free throws for a 53-49 lead with 1:59 left.
Craft was then whistled for a charge seconds later, giving the ball back to Nebraska. NU’s Petteway was fouled on the inbounds play and made both free throws for a 55-49 lead with 1:54 left.
Craft was fouled in hit two free throws, cutting it to 55-51 with 1:49 left. But Petteway again drove down the right side of the lane for a bank shot and a 57-51 lead. At the other end, Thompson missed a three and Marc Loving could not tip it in.
NU’s Webster was fouled with 1:15 left. Webster made them both for a 59-51 lead. OSU’s Loving missed a three and NU’s David Rivers was fouled. He made both free throws for a 61-51 lead with 1:02 left.
OSU’s Loving hit a three to cut it to 61-54, but Petteway was fouled on the inbounds play. He made 1 of 2 free throws. The teams traded turnovers before Ross airballed a three. Biggs was fouled and made both free throws for a 64-54 lead with 38.5 seconds left.
Loving and Smith hit threes for OSU to cut it to 68-62 with 10.5 seconds left, but the Buckeyes could get no closer.
* In this four-game losing streak, Ohio State has hit just 40.4 percent of its shots from the floor (88 of 218) and 30.3 percent of its threes (23 of 76). OSU has averaged 16 turnovers in these four losses.
* Game day RPI Rankings: Ohio State, 12th; Nebraska, 90th.
* Nebraska is now 8-1 in the first year at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Michigan took a 71-70 win there Jan. 9.
* This was Nebraska’s first Big Ten win over Ohio State after six straight conference wins for the Buckeyes by an average of 26.7 points.
Ohio State still leads the all-time series against the Cornhuskers 10-3. Ohio State is now 3-2 in Lincoln. Ohio State had won the last 10 games in the series, dating to a December 1985 loss in a tournament at New Mexico (69-66).
Nebraska was the last team Ohio State had beaten. OSU won the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 4 at Value City Arena (84-53).
* In Matta’s 10 years at Ohio State, the Buckeyes are now 55-21 in games after a loss. OSU last had four straight losses in the NIT season of 2007-08 with losses at Michigan, to Wisconsin at home and at Indiana and Minnesota.
* Ohio State is now 2-3 on the road this year with wins at Marquette and Purdue and losses at Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska.
* Craft is now 37th all-time at Ohio State with 1,146 career points. He moved past Jamaal Brown (1,139) in this game.
* The Buckeyes host Illinois (13-6, 2-4) Thursday night (7 p.m., ESPN).
* Click here for the box score of OSU-Nebraska.