Ohio State downs Nebraska, 78-69


COLUMBUS — Playing its fourth game under interim head coach Jake Diebler, the resurgent Ohio State Buckeyes added another quality win to their still-kicking NCAA Tournament resumé with a 78-69 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Thursday in Value City Arena.

With starting point guard Bruce Thornton sidelined with a migraine, Jamison Battle more than made up for the scoring absence, dropping a season-high 32 points to lead Ohio State. Roddy Gayle Jr. added a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Devin Royal chipped in with 13 points.

Jamar Lawrence and Rienk Mast led Nebraska with 14 points each, and Mast added 12 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. As a team, Nebraska was held to just 39% shooting overall and 30% from three in one of its worst shooting performances of the season.

The loss snaps a four-game winning streak for Nebraska while giving Ohio State its third win in the past four games.

Battle was in quite the rhythm to begin the game, connecting on all three of his three-point attempts in the opening five minutes and scoring 11 of the Buckeyes’ 13 points to jump out to a 13-6 lead.

Nebraska (20-9, 10-8) responded quickly, rattling off the next eight points as part of a 15-2 run that gave it a 21-15 lead at the midway point of the first half.

The Nebraska lead hovered around five points for the next seven minutes as both teams’ shooting struggles continued. Scotty Middleton’s three brought Ohio State to within two points at the 2:38 mark, and Battle followed it up with a layup on the Buckeyes’ next possession to level the score heading to the final two minutes of the half.

While Nebraska went scoreless over the final 4:47, Battle continued to carry the scoring load for Ohio State, adding another layup and a pair of free throws as part of a 6-0 personal spurt to give his team a 39-35 lead.

Ohio State finished the half shooting just 11-27 from the field and committed eight turnovers but still managed the two-point lead thanks in large part to Battle’s 17-point effort.

Keisei Tominaga led all Nebraska scorers with nine points in the first half thanks to a pair of three-pointers. While Tominaga was dialed in from distance, his team was not as the Cornhuskers managed to shoot just 5-15 from three in the first half.

Ohio State quickly added to its lead to begin the second half, ripping off a 7-0 run that included a three-point play from Felix Okpara to take a 46-37 advantage.

Despite continuing to shoot poorly, Nebraska was able to hang around, getting within a single basket multiple times as the game approached five minutes to play. Juwan Gary’s thunderous dunk cut the Ohio State lead to 67-65 with 4:49 remaining, and the Cornhuskers were again back to within two on a pair of free throws from Gary with 3:52 remaining.

That’s as close as Nebraska would get, though, as Ohio State put the game away for good with an 8-0 run over the next two minutes to stretch the lead to 67-57. Royal started the run with a pair of free throws, and four consecutive points from Battle finally gave Ohio State the breathing room it needed.

Sam Hoiberg’s layup with 20 seconds remaining finally ended a nearly four-minute Nebraska scoring drought, but it was all window dressing as Ohio State dribbled out the final seconds to secure the win.

Following the game, Diebler said of his team’s resilience in consecutive games in which Ohio State has been without one of its best players, “The message has been simple and it’s been the same the last two games. We have to find a way when you’re a man down. Find a way to be a little bit tougher and more together.

“Nebraska’s a really good team, and they’re going to be dangerous this postseason … We went into this game like we knew they were going to be on it and we had to give our absolute best, and I am so proud of how our guys stepped up while missing such an important piece as Bruce. But we shouldn’t be surprised because they did the same thing when missing an important piece with Jamison against Michigan State.”

Ohio State remains firmly outside the bubble picture for the last at-large spots in the NCAA Tournament, but wins over Purdue, Michigan State, and Nebraska have at least breathed some life into the Buckeyes’ postseason hopes heading into the regular season finale against Michigan on Sunday. Regardless of where his team may stand in the big picture, Diebler said he expects them to continue attacking each game with the same effort and energy they’ve displayed over the last two weeks.

“I think we’ve practiced consistently well, and I think that says a lot,” Diebler said. “Whether it’s been the emotional win against Purdue, obviously the emotional win against Michigan State and how that game ended, we have practiced consistently well, and that’s the most important thing. Our guys are being aggressive, and I think there is a great deal of belief right now, which is important. But I expect us to continue to practice well because the focus has been on one day at a time.

“Our leadership has been so good during this time period, through this adversity that has been hard for all of us. I’ve been so impressed with how they’ve led, and they’ve led by example in practice, so I anticipate we’ll keep that up.”

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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