In desperate need of a win, The No. 21 Ohio State men’s basketball team overcame the absence of two of its starters to defeat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 80-68, in Value City Arena on Tuesday night.
The win snaps a four-game losing steak for Ohio State and moves the Buckeyes to 12-5 on the season and 2-4 in Big Ten play.
C.J. Walker led Ohio State with a season-high 18 points, and D.J. Carton and Kaleb Wesson each chipped in with 13 points. Wesson added 14 rebounds for the double-double, his seventh on the season.
Searching for any type of positives to build upon, it was more bad news for Ohio State during pregame with the announced suspensions of Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad just over an hour before tipoff.
The offense-starved Buckeyes missed on their first five shots as Nebraska jumped out to an early 4-0 lead. But, as he has often of late, Ohio State senior forward Andre Wesson provided a lift for the Buckeyes.
Wesson jump-started the offense with three-pointers on three consecutive possessions to give the Buckeyes a 9-4 lead just over four minutes into the first half.
Midway through the opening period, it was Ohio State forward Kyle Young’s turn to dominate for a stretch. His jumper at the 15:26 mark upped the Ohio State lead to double digits at 26-15. A dunk and layup by Young on the next two possessions increased the Buckeye lead to 30-15.
Justin Ahrens, forced into a much bigger role given the suspensions, provided a strong close to the first half for Ohio State. Ahrens drilled a three from the left corner with 1:52 remaining in the half to push the lead to its largest margin at 36-20. Following a pair of Nebraska field goals, Ahrens’ jumper beat the first-half buzzer to send the Buckeyes into the locker room with a 38-25 lead.
Ohio State shot nearly 54 percent in the first half, including 5-for-10 from three, a refreshing change of pace. Nebraska went just 1-for-9 from three and was held to 31-percent shooting.
The halftime break did little to cool down the Buckeyes as they came out of the locker room red hot to begin the second half, connecting on four of their first five shots.
Carton, starting for the first time in his college career, got the Buckeyes going with an and-one layup on Ohio State’s opening possession. A few possessions later, Carton’s three-pointer gave Ohio State its largest lead at 46-28.
In danger of the game getting away from them, the Cornhuskers wouldn’t relent. A made three-pointer by Nebraska’s Thorir Thorbjarnarson, the fourth made three of the second half for the Huskers, cut Ohio State’s lead to 56-43 with 11:54 to play in the game.
But the Ohio State offense proved to be too much for Nebraska, which couldn’t find stops against the dialed-in Buckeyes. Following Thorbjarnarson’s three, Ohio State rattled off a quick 7-0 run, capped by a Walker three-pointer, to push the Buckeye lead to 20 points at 63-43 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Walker added a layup and his second made three of the game to increase the Ohio State run to 12-0 and the Buckeyes’ lead over the Huskers to 25 points with 8:25 remaining in the second half as they cruised through the final minutes.
Ohio State finished the game shooting 54 percent and made 10 three-pointers, its best marks since mid-December.
Following the game, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said he was proud of his players, adding, “I thought we competed and felt like defensively, we set the tone.” He credited better ball movement for the offensive performance, as well as guys simply making shots.
Specifically, Holtmann said he was proud of Andre Wesson and the way he gave the team life early in the game. Holtmann said of Andre becoming a go-to guy for a team that is in need of such a leader to emerge, “I think he has the best understanding of what is needed to win, what it looks like (to win). Is he perfect? No. But he does a lot of things really well.”
Ohio State returns to action on Saturday when it travels to Penn State to take on the Nittany Lions.
As for the status of Washington and Muhammad for the game in State College, Holtmann said their status will be evaluated “day to day.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.