On Jan. 18, it took last-second heroics for the Ohio State men’s basketball team to knock off the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the road. This time around, the Buckeyes (15-12, 5-9 Big Ten) have the home-court advantage in an important game for conference positioning.
Prior to last playing the Huskers, OSU defeated Michigan State at home. On Saturday, the Buckeyes are pushing for the same outcome against Nebraska, only this time coming off a loss in East Lansing, Michigan, against the Spartans.
After cutting the deficit to one with 11:32 remaining, the Buckeyes had multiple opportunities to retake the lead and keep the game within a possession, but turnovers and poor shot selection doomed the Buckeyes. OSU coach Thad Matta said the next step for his team is eliminating those miscues.
“We still got those moments where we shoot ourselves in the foot,” Matta said. “If the energy and the effort is going to be there, then we got to capitalize on seizing those opportunities that are in front of us.”
Two of the Huskers’ (11-14, 5-8 Big Ten) better players, sophomore guard Glynn Watson and sophomore forward Ed Morrow are dealing with injuries but should play against the Buckeyes on Saturday at 6 p.m. Freshman forward Isaiah Roby, a role player for Nebraska, is “50-50 at best,” according to Tim Miles earlier this week.
Morrow did not play against OSU in the last meeting and Watson had 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
In conference play, OSU and Nebraska probably couldn’t be more similar. The two teams vary by one percent or less in field-goal percentage, field-goal defense percentage and 3-point field-goal percentage. The Huskers lead OSU by just half a game in 10th place in the standings.
Per Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistical ratings, Nebraska is ranked 82nd with OSU checking in at No. 62. The Huskers score at a less efficient rate than the Buckeyes with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 107 points per 100 possessions compared to the Buckeyes’ 111.3.
On defense, the Cornhuskers allow 98.6 points per 100 possessions and are ranked 12th scoring defense in Big Ten games, allowing opponents to score over 75 points per game.
Senior guard Tai Webster and Watson lead the pack with 17.8 and 14.0 points per game. Webster is the second leading scorer during conference play, averaging 18.5 points through 13 league games.
Along with Morrow’s 7.1 rebounds per game, sophomore forward Michael Jacobson makes teams hurt on the glass, with 81 of his 168 total rebounds coming on offense. OSU has struggled this season in that aspect, allowing an average of 9.5 offensive rebounds per game.
“(Nebraska) goes into Maryland and goes on a 15-0 run to win the game, going to Indiana and knocking them off,” Matta said. “They’ve had some great moments in terms of playing big time basketball.”
Bottom line, OSU probably needs to win the Big Ten tournament to be in the NCAA Tournament field. But losing to Nebraska at home for the first time in school history would be devastating.
“Every game is important at this point,” senior forward Marc Loving said. “But getting back on track and getting a W in the win column is always positive.”
OSU has struggled with foul trouble as of late. The Buckeyes played with redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson and junior forward Jae’Sean Tate on the bench for much of the second half against Michigan State. If those two can’t stay on the court against Nebraska, the Buckeyes might have a tough time contending with the rebounding effort from the Cornhuskers.
Loving had one of his best games of the season at Nebraska a month ago, scoring 15 and grabbing 11 rebounds. For the Buckeyes to win this one, his effort will have to be present and constant.
Overall, the Buckeyes are a more physical, more-skilled team, but that hasn’t always resulted in a victory. At home with a chance to move up in the Big Ten standings, Saturday’s game presents an opportunity that the Buckeyes can’t squander.
“We have to come out and play,” Matta said. “We will be prepared for Nebraska but a lot of it is on us and trying to sure up all of the things that we need to sure up to give us the best chance to win.”