LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Ohio State opened a 15-point lead with 9 minutes left and still had to hold off Nebraska.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored 21 points and the 11th-ranked Buckeyes found themselves in a tight game down the stretch before warding off a late Cornhuskers surge in a 63-56 victory Saturday night.
“We have to find a way to correct that,” Ohio State guard Aaron Craft said. “But you’ve got to give them a lot of credit, too. They really picked up their intensity, especially on the offensive boards, and we didn’t get adjusted to it. But you’ve got to be happy with a road win in this league. We found a way to stay on top and finish with a win.”
Article continues below ...
Ohio State (17-4, 7-2 Big Ten) led 53-38 after a pair of free throws by Craft with 9:05 left. Nebraska (11-12, 2-8) then made its comeback, outscoring the Buckeyes 15-5 and cutting the lead to 58-53 on David Rivers’ free throws with 2:40 remaining.
“We had a couple of careless possessions there that gave them easy baskets,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta. “Those things you can’t do on the road. But we’ll take whatever it was, seven points. … They’ve got the capability to kind of get rolling on you. You’ve got to be careful with them.”
Following an Ohio State miss, Nebraska’s Brandon Ubel and Andre Almeida each missed shots at the rim and Ubel missed a 3-point attempt. Craft hit a pair of free throws with 56 seconds left to put the Buckeyes up seven.
“We just stayed aggressive; we need to keep that mindset,” Cornhuskers guard Dylan Talley said. “They are ranked in the top 10 for a reason, so they are going to make runs. So we needed to just stay strong and fight back and we did.”
Ohio State won the game at the free throw line. The Buckeyes made 23 of 28, including all 10 of their first-half attempts. Nebraska was just 4 of 5 from the line.
“It’s how you play, in terms of your style,” Matta said. “They shot 26 3s, we only shot 12. We were playing two different types of basketball.”
Nebraska coach Tim Miles didn’t have any complaints about getting outscored by 19 from the foul line.
“You trying to get me fined here? A reprimand?” Miles jokes when asked about the disparity. “That was a huge impact on the game. They’re very good when they’re on the attack and they do a great job not fouling. So you have to credit Ohio State.”
Ohio State won its third straight game and seventh in a row against Nebraska, including all four since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes travel to No. 1 Michigan on Tuesday.
Ohio State established a working margin late in the first half. Trailing 19-17, the Buckeyes went on a 13-0 run capped by LaQuinton Ross’ long 3-pointer with 2:05 left. Ohio State led by nine at halftime.
Nebraska cut the lead to 38-32 on Talley’s 3-pointer with 15:58 to go. Ohio State then went on a 15-6 run, going up 45-34 on Deshaun Thomas’ short jumper with 13:42 remaining.
Despite the victory, Smith said Matta told the Buckeyes they didn’t play well.
“There are some things we’ve got to work on, but we’re 7-2,” Smith said. “We got the win. We did what we came here to do. But we’ve got to get better.”