It wasn’t in the cards Thursday night for Nebraska.
Nebraska basketball has followed a similar script in head coach Fred Hoiberg’s first year: fall behind early, come back and ultimately run out of gas in the end. No matter the final score, there have been stretches where the Huskers have been the aggressor and controlled tempo with pace.
The Huskers (7-21, 2-15 Big Ten) had no such energy to fight the No. 25 Buckeyes. Instead Ohio State (19-9, 9-8 Big Ten) sentenced Hoiberg’s group to death by a thousand paper cuts, dominating the contest from the opening tipoff and defending well enough to keep Nebraska from finding any offensive rhythm.
Ohio State’s lead was never in doubt, and the Buckeyes thrashed a lifeless Husker squad 75-54. Here are three takeaways from loss No. 13 of Nebraska’s school-record losing streak.
The Buckeyes didn’t shoot the ball well, but it didn’t matter
Ohio State started Thursday night’s contest on fire.
Buckeye sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. hit three 3-pointers in the game’s opening three minutes, and Ohio State built an early 26-12 lead with 10:50 left in the first half. The Buckeyes shot 81% from the field at that point and 83% from 3-point range, making five of their first six efforts from long range.
Then, the Buckeyes went cold. Ohio State’s next made field goal came at the 6:05 mark of the first half after a driving layup from Buckeye junior guard CJ Walker. Nebraska was punched in the mouth early, but it had a chance to cut a big early deficit like it did in Iowa City a few weeks ago.
Nebraska’s offense didn’t get the memo.
Ohio State was able to get to the line to keep itself afloat while the Huskers couldn’t get out in transition or run anything slightly resembling Hoiberg’s ideal offensive strategy. Walker’s layup came after Nebraska junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. finished a layup at the basket. Burke’s effort cut Ohio State’s lead to 32-20.
Walker’s layup snapped an 0-11 stretch from the Buckeyes’ offense to extend their advantage to 14 points. Nebraska didn’t get within 12 points for the remainder of the contest. Ohio State, meanwhile, stayed cold after the first half. The Buckeyes finished Thursday’s contest shooting 40.3% from the field, including an 0-12 mark from the 3-point line in the second half.
The Huskers had an opportunity to take advantage of Ohio State’s inconsistent offense, but they failed repeatedly in that endeavor all night.
Kaleb Wesson and E.J. Lidell were disruptive in the paint
After Ohio State’s upset victory over Maryland on Feb. 23, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon referred to junior forward Kaleb Wesson’s play as “bully-ball.”
It couldn’t be a more accurate assessment of his play.
Wesson dominated the paint on both ends of the floor, finishing with 16 points and 18 rebounds. He was 3-10 from the field, but Nebraska’s inability to slow him down allowed him to go to the free-throw line a game-high 13 times. Wesson made 10 of those while also collecting five offensive rebounds.
Like Wesson, freshman forward E.J. Lidell faced little-to-no resistance in the paint. Unlike Wesson, Lidell was more of a force on the defensive end, blocking five shots and collecting five rebounds. Lidell was also 3-10 from the field and finished with eight points.
The Buckeyes out-rebounded Nebraska 48-33, and at times it was comical how easily Ohio State was able to secure offensive rebounds over hapless Husker defenders. Nothing went right for Nebraska on Thursday night, but getting dominated in the paint was a familiar sight for the Huskers.
Nebraska looked out of sorts offensively
Even in losses, there were stretches of play where Nebraska dictated tempo and controlled the pace of play.
None of that happened against the Buckeyes. Nebraska scored nine points in transition and made a season-low three 3-pointers. The Huskers finished the contest shooting 35.6% from the field and 18.8% from 3-point range.
In a lifeless offensive performance, few Nebraska players looked dynamic on the offensive end. Sophomore guard Cam Mack finished with 12 points while Burke finished with 13. Mack’s performance was especially impressive considering he missed Monday’s contest with Illinois due to illness.
Washington and sophomore guard Luther Muhammad contributed to Nebraska’s miserable offensive night. Both are above average defenders, and Muhammad gave Mack fits all night. Mack had three turnovers and as a whole, the Huskers turned the ball over 11 times.
Lidell and Wesson’s presence inside led to another poor performance at the rim for Hoiberg’s group. Finishing layups has been a problem for Nebraska all season, and Thursday night was no exception. The Huskers finished shooting 15-36 on layups, a combination of poor offense and a dominant opposing inside presence
Nebraska finished with 54 points, the third time it finished in the 50-point range this season. With the way Hoiberg likes to play, finishing in the 50s is unacceptable, but it’s a deserved outcome with how uninspired Nebraska played.
This team desperately needs something to feel good about, and the Huskers have the perfect chance to stop the skid when they host Northwestern on Senior Day on March 1. Tipoff is at 3:15 and the game will be on BTN.