Nebraska earned its first home win in three weeks on Wednesday, outlasting Ohio State 63-60. The Huskers proved able to play multiple styles. The first half was a sloppy, low-scoring slog that gave way to a higher-scoring second half in which the two teams proved an even match. The home team ultimately prevailed for its third Big Ten win.
Here are three takeaways and a question from the game:
Huskers fight through adversity to win a back-and-forth affair
There were a number of moments in which Nebraska could have faltered against the Buckeyes. They were without a critical starter, junior forward Juwan Gary, lost for the season to a shoulder injury. Senior forward Derrick Walker found himself in foul trouble, and Ohio State freshman guard Brice Sensabaugh began to reveal his first-round pick upside after a slow start, finishing with a game-high 18 points.
But Nebraska’s own freshman guards, Denim Dawson and Jamarques Lawrence, provided critical minutes. The former tallied career-highs in minutes (30) and rebounds (eight) to go with a career-high for points in conference play (seven), including two acrobatic reverse layups in the second half.
After starting 0-for-3 from the free throw line, the Huskers made 10 of their 13 second-half attempts, helping them mostly put the game away. Perhaps most impressively, the Huskers survived a near three-and-a-half-minute scoring drought in crunch time.
In a game with 13 lead changes, 11 of which came in the second half, the Huskers prevailed. It marked their second one-possession victory of the new year and brought their record in such games to 2-1 on the season after losing to Purdue and beating Minnesota in overtime. That’s no small feat considering Nebraska was 1-5 in games decided by one possession or in overtime last season.
Nebraska secures another resume-boosting win
Ohio State may be a bubble team now, but it still profiles as a Quad 1 win, given its standing at No. 24 in the NET rankings prior to tipoff. That marks three statement wins for the Huskers, who won at Creighton and thoroughly beat Iowa in Lincoln. The latter two are on hot streaks, and all three could soon meet the Quad 1 win criteria.
The Buckeyes were hardly at their sharpest in the first half, but Nebraska’s pesky defense still contributed to holding what was the nation’s 6th-best offense, per kenpom.com, to its lowest scoring total of the season.
Unlike Nebraska’s late-season wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State last year, the Huskers are picking up victories while there’s still time to build a resume and a reputation. They’ve nearly matched their high water mark in the Fred Hoiberg era (four conference wins) and still have 12 league games remaining.
Big Game Griesel
Senior guard Sam Griesel has been at his best in the Huskers’ three most impressive wins, averaging 15 points, 9.7 rebounds and five assists against the Bluejays, Hawkeyes and Buckeyes. He tallied a team-high 17 points to go with seven rebounds and three assists on Wednesday.
He hit two of his three 3-point attempts and made important plays in the second half to answer Ohio State’s offense. Through one three-minute stretch, he snaked a pass inside to Walker for a tie-breaking layup, sank a pair of free throws, pulled the ball out on a fast break and made his second 3-pointer of the game to retake the lead before breaking another tie with an and-one layup.
Griesel also made all five of his free throws in the second half, including a critical pair in the final minute, despite starting the game 0-for-3 from the charity stripe.
These are the kinds of moments the Lincoln native surely dreamt of as a kid and transferred back home for despite being pursued by a horde of other high-major programs.
What more do the Huskers have in store with a (slightly) more forgiving schedule ahead?
While Nebraska will take a moment to appreciate its victory, it’s difficult not to look ahead as we sit slightly past the regular season’s midway point.
The Huskers rose back above .500 for the third time this season and have proved competitive in one of the nation’s deepest conferences, with a 3-5 Big Ten record. Nebraska has done all that while facing the nation’s hardest schedule per ESPN’s college basketball power index.
With just one game remaining against teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25, the Huskers will have a more forgiving stretch ahead. Keeping above .500 overall would be a major help toward a postseason push, as would staying within a few games of that mark in league play.
It may take a finish even better than Nebraska’s promising start, but the first NIT berth since 2018-19 is coming into focus as the skies ahead clear ever so slightly.