Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
After taking down the team at the top of the Big Ten on Sunday, Ohio State hits the road tonight to take on Nebraska, who sits near the bottom of the conference standings.
On the heels of Sunday afternoon’s win over Maryland, Ohio State will hit the road and try and complete a regular season sweep over Nebraska, who the Buckeyes beat 80-68 last month in Columbus. After a dreadful January, a win over Nebraska tonight would give Ohio State their seventh win in the last nine games.
Ohio State continued their recent stretch of hot play on Sunday when they beat Maryland 79-72 at Value City Arena. The win by the Buckeyes was their sixth win in the last eight games, and fourth this season against a team ranked in the AP Top 10. The victory by Ohio State snapped a three-game losing streak against the Terrapins.
The star of Sunday’s win over Maryland was Luther Muhammad, who scored a season-high 22 points. Muhammad hit four of Ohio State’s 10 three-pointers in the game. The Buckeyes have now hit at least 10 three-pointers in 10 games this year, winning all 10 of those games. The last time Ohio State hit 10 three-pointers in a game and failed to win was in the loss to Houston in the Second Round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Muhammad was one of five Buckeyes to reach double figures in scoring on Sunday, marking the first time since last month’s victory against Nebraska that at least five Ohio State players scored at least 10 points in a game. Kaleb Wesson nearly recorded another double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds against the Terrapins. Duane Washington Jr. scored 13 points off the bench for the Buckeyes, while Andre Wesson and C.J. Walker each added 12 points.
Ohio State was in a lot different place the last time they squared off with Nebraska. The 80-68 win over the Cornhuskers last month in Columbus was Ohio State’s lone win in a seven-game stretch. Along with their struggles at the time, Chris Holtmann suspended Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad for the game for failing to meet team and program expectations. Even without the two sophomore guards, Ohio State didn’t have much trouble with the Cornhuskers, jumping out to a 38-25 lead at halftime and not being threatened in the second half.
Leading the charge for Ohio State in the first meeting with Nebraska was C.J. Walker, who scored a team-high 18 points. Kaleb Wesson registered a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds. D.J. Carton added 13 points, while Andre Wesson, Kyle Young, and E.J. Liddell rounded out the double figure scorers in the contest for the Buckeyes. The win over the Cornhuskers was Ohio State’s seven in the last eight meetings, and improved their record to 17-4 all-time against Nebraska.
With Ohio State still without D.J. Carton, Kaleb Wesson continues to be the main focus of the offense, averaging 14 points per game. Supporting the junior are six other Buckeyes who are averaging at least 6.2 points per game Duane Washington Jr. is the only other Buckeye averaging at least 10 points per game, while Andre Wesson is not only averaging 9.1 points per game, but is shooting 44% from three-point range.
It has been a tough first season for Fred Hoiberg in Lincoln. The former coach of Iowa State and the Chicago Bulls has seen his team win just one game so far in 2020, and lose 12 straight contests. Hoiberg did get some good news yesterday though, as former Wisconsin guard Kobe King announced his intention to transfer to Nebraska. While the news is big for the Nebraska program, it won’t help the Cornhuskers tonight, as King won’t be eligible to suit up for Nebraska until next season at the earliest.
The latest loss for Nebraska came on Monday night when they fell to Illinois 71-59 in Champaign. The Cornhuskers and Fighting Illini were tied at 46 with 15 minutes to go, but Illinois ended any of Nebraska’s hopes for an upset by rattling off an 11-1 run to take control of the game. Haanif Cheatham scored a team-high 14 points in the loss, while Dachon Burke Jr. added 13 points. Freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo continued his improved play of late, registering the second double-double of his career by scoring 11 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
In the last meeting with Ohio State, Nebraska had four players score at least 10 points, but the Cornhuskers were no match for the balanced Ohio State scoring attack. Thorir Thorbjarnarson scored 15 points to lead Nebraska. The Cornhuskers didn’t do a lot wrong in the game, as they had six more assists than turnovers and were only out-rebounded by three. Nebraska just couldn’t keep pace with the Buckeyes, who shot 54% from the field.
Nebraska’s leading scorer this year is senior guard Haanif Cheatham, who is averaging 12.5 points per game, but the most dynamic player for the Cornhuskers is Cam Mack. The sophomore averages 12 points per game, 6.5 assists per game, which ranks third in the Big Ten, and 4.7 rebounds per game. Earlier this year against Purdue, Mack recorded a triple-double, scoring 11 points, dishing out 12 assists, and grabbing 10 rebounds. Mack missed Monday night’s game against Illinois due to illness, but expect him to be available to play tonight.
Ohio State can’t focus too much energy on slowing down Cheatham and Mack, because the Cornhuskers have a third scorer who is averaging double figures this year. Dachon Burke Jr. has scored at least 10 points in five straight games, and is averaging 11.8 points per game this year. Burke spent the first two years of his college career at Robert Morris before deciding to transfer to Nebraska following the 2017-18 season, where he averaged 17.6 points per game for the Colonials.
A couple Nebraska players to keep your eyes on in this contest are the ones with the toughest names. After playing sparingly in his sophomore season, Thorir Thobjarnarson is averaging 28 minutes per game this year. The Cornhuskers have been struggling in 2020, but the guard from Iceland has started to find a more consistent scoring touch in the new year, recording at least 10 points in eight of the last 14 games. The Buckeyes can’t afford to let Thorbjarnarson find his shot from three-point range like they did in the first game, when the junior hit five three-pointers.
One Cornhusker who is starting to make a name for himself is Yvan Ouedraogo. The freshman from France still hasn’t turned 18 yet, so his game is still a little raw. Ouedraogo has proved he can be a menace on the boards, as he has recorded at least 10 rebounds in five games this year, despite averaging just 21 minutes per game. At 6-9 and 260 pounds, Ouedraogo will be a force on the block the next few years in the conference if his offensive game continues to improve.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 85.3%
There is no easy road game in the Big Ten, but as long as Ohio State doesn’t have a hangover from Sunday’s win over Maryland, the Buckeyes should be fine in this contest. One area for concern for Ohio State in this one is the status of Kyle Young, who is considered a game-time decision after suffering an ankle injury against Maryland. If Young isn’t able to go, expect to see increased minutes for E.J. Liddell, who scored 10 points in 14 minutes in the first meeting this year with Nebraska.
What made Ohio State so successful in the matchup last month against Nebraska was the way they distributed the basketball. The Buckeyes recorded 17 assists against the Cornhuskers, which was their highest total in a nine-game span. When Ohio State was struggling they were turning the ball over more than they registering assists, but lately they have gotten better at cutting down on the turnovers. The key for the Buckeyes in this game will be to not give Nebraska extra possessions.
After starting the conference season so poorly, Ohio State has an outside shot at earning a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, but the Buckeyes can’t afford any more losses. After tonight’s game, Ohio State closes out the regular season against Michigan, Illinois, and Michigan State, which makes getting a win tonight critical. Nebraska won’t make it easy against an Ohio State team that could be short-handed, but the Buckeyes keep the momentum going and grit out a win in Lincoln.