Another spectacular performance from Bryce McGowens, a double-double from Alonzo Verge Jr. and a big game off the bench from C.J. Wilcher powered Nebraska to a 78-70 win at No. 23 Ohio State on Tuesday night.
The Cornhuskers won on the road against a ranked team for the first time since March 14, 2019 when they beat No. 21 Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament. That snapped a 24-game road losing streak against ranked teams.
Bryce McGowens finished with a team-high 26 points on 8-of-15 from the field and 8-of-9 from the line. His 11th 20-point game of the season set a new school record for a freshman, moving him past Joe McCray. Alonzo Verge Jr. added 13 points, 11 assists and five rebounds.
“Offensively I thought we had really good efficiency, especially in the first half,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Bryce continues to get better every time he steps on the floor. Alonzo Verge had a really good first half … He had nine assists and one turnover, set a record for most assists in a half, then we went at matchups in the second half and just tried to get the proper spacing and then attack.”
C.J. Wilcher chipped in 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting (3-of-5 from 3) while spending most of his 33 minutes at either the four or five because of foul trouble to Nebraska’s bigs. Wilcher moved into second place on the program’s freshman 3-pointers list with 50, though he’s still well behind McCray in first place with 80.
The Huskers shot 49.1% from the field including 9-of-23 from 3 and 15-of-18 from the free-throw line while committing a season-low four turnovers.
E.J. Liddell went off for a game-high 27 points, but he did most of his damage from the foul line as the Huskers held him to 7-of-17 from the field. Freshman Malaki Branham, who lit Nebraska up for 35 points Lincoln, finished with 16 on 5-of-11 shooting, and Hoiberg credited Trey McGowens’ effort in slowing the freshman down. Overall, the Huskers limited Ohio State to 38.6% from the field including 7-of-24 from 3.
Nebraska got off to another good offensive start, attacking the basket on each of its first four possessions before Lat Mayen buried a transition 3 to give the Huskers an early 9-6 lead.
Nebraska went nearly three minutes without scoring until Wilcher knocked down a 3 from the top of the key, but the offensive struggles continued as Ohio State scored seven straight to take a 15-12 lead.
The Huskers tied it up at 17-all before Ohio State knocked down 3-pointers on three straight possessions to pull ahead 26-19. Wilcher sparked the Huskers with his own 3-point magic, however, knocking down 3s on back-to-back possessions to get them going again.
“It was good to see him going and it was really good to see our guys finding him in the first half,” Hoiberg said. “C.J. has had a really good year and he’s gone out there and he’s shooting the ball at a really high clip, especially this last half of the season. We really want to find him … The biggest thing is just awareness to where he is at all times. When C.J.’s got an open shot, I think everybody in that locker room thinks it’s going in.”
Soon after, the Huskers regained the lead with an 8-0 run capped by a Bryce McGowens dunk that made it 33-30 and drew a timeout from Chris Holtmann. The Huskers held the Buckeyes without a field goal for eight minutes as their only points during that stretch came at the foul line. A Bryce McGowens 3 gave the Cornhuskers their largest lead of the game at 43-36 in the final minute of the half, but Branham finally ended the drought with a 3-pointer after two offensive rebounds from Eugene Brown III.
Wilcher missed a 3 at the buzzer and Nebraska took a 43-39 lead into halftime. The Huskers shot 55.6% from the field in the first half including 6-of-12 from 3. Wilcher hit his first four shots of the game including three triples and ended the half with 13 points, matching Liddell’s production. Bryce McGowens added 12 points and Verge dished out nine assists, the most by any Big Ten player in one half this season and most over for a Husker in a half in conference play.
The Huskers escaped the half with a lead despite Derrick Walker and Mayen picking up two first-half fouls apiece and Eduardo Andre committing three. The foul trouble limited the three bigs to nine minutes each and the Huskers ended the half playing five guards. Ohio State grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and converted them into 11 second-chance points to keep pace with the red-hot Huskers despite shooting 40% inside the arc.
Liddell drew Walker’s third foul 13 seconds into the half and hit a pair of free throws, but Nebraska responded with a 10-2 run to stretch its lead to 10 at 53-43. The Buckeyes continued to play through their All-American candidate in Liddell and he delivered again and again, but each time the Huskers had an answer on the other end to maintain their lead.
“It was really just keeping our composure, staying poised and just believing in each other,” Bryce McGowens said. “Being able to get stops down the stretch, it really helped us gain our momentum back on the offensive end.”
Ohio State pulled within six, but Verge responded with a personal 9-4 run to give the Huskers their largest lead of the night at 73-62 with three-and-a-half to play.
However, the Buckeyes began to key in on Verge and the ball movement stalled. The Buckeyes put together a 7-0 run spanning two-and-a-half minutes to cut the deficit to four with 55.9 to play as Trey McGowens committed his fifth foul and Branham hit two free throws.
The Huskers broke the Ohio State press and Mayen drew a foul, splitting the free throws to push it back to six. The Buckeyes went to Liddell again, but Walker stayed down on defense then got a late contest to force a miss on Liddell’s 3-point attempt. Bryce McGowens and Kobe Webster both went 2-for-2 at the line in the final 40 seconds to seal the victory.
Shots stopped falling in the second half as Nebraska went 3-for-11 from deep, but the Huskers maintained their advantage with a strong defensive effort, holding Ohio State to 36% shooting after halftime. Bryce McGowens matched Liddell with 14 second-half points.
“It’s important for a group like ours,” Hoiberg said about the back-to-back wins. “We have a lot of young pieces that are going to be back and to have some momentum, something to feel good about, is very important. And we’ve still got the Big Ten Tournament sitting in front of us as well. We’ve got one more regular season game. Hopefully we go and play well against a team that’s leading our league in Wisconsin and then we get ready for the postseason where everyday is 0-0. Just keep battling, keep grinding, keep going in and practicing and getting better.
“But I like our mentality right now, these guys have been really locked in and that’s a credit to them in a very difficult season to continue to come in and work every day and continue to want to get better. So I’m really proud of these guys for how they’ve continued to battle.”
After playing three games in five days, the Huskers will get a chance to catch their breath before they close out the regular season with a trip to Madison to face the Badgers on Sunday.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.