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Huskers Fall Behind Early and Never Recover in Loss to Ohio State

February 27, 2020

In most of the games during Nebraska’s extended losing streak, it’s taken one big run to knock the Huskers out. On Thursday, that run came early as Ohio State took control early and cruised to a 75-54 win, handing Nebraska it’s 13th straight loss.

The one thing that each loss during the streak has had in common is Nebraska (7-21, 2-15 Big Ten) falling behind by at least 14 points. The Huskers got that out of the way in a hurry against the Buckeyes (19-9, 9-8). A 15-4 run put Ohio State up 26-12 just over nine minutes into the game

Ohio State hit nine of its first 11 field goals including 5-of-6 from 3. 

“It's hard when they get five 3s right off the bat of the game and have to dig yourselves out of a hole,” Thorir Thorbjarnarson said.

Nebraska’s gotten a lot of experience this season trying to do just that, but they didn’t have much luck on Thursday.

Yvan Ouedraogo, the only Husker with the kind of size needed to match up with Ohio State’s leading scorer and rebounder, Kaleb Wesson, picked up two fouls before the first media timeout. Duane Washington Jr, who had shot 9-of-36 from 3 in his last eight games, buried his first three 3s for Ohio State’s first nine points.

“First half, I really did think we went out and tried to do the right thing defensively,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They obviously hit shots early — five of their first six, four of those by Washington who really has been driving the ball. We talked about closing out to him as a driver and he was going up shooting it without any hesitation at all. But I thought we were there, I thought we were there on those closeouts.”

The lead reached its peak at 21 with three minutes to go before the Buckeyes cooled off and Nebraska showed some life with a 9-2 run to cut it to 14, but Ohio State got a layup and Nebraska came up empty on its last possession to make it 43-27 at the half.

The Huskers had no answers on either end. Ohio State scored 1.22 points per possession. Nebraska was at 0.73, a full half-point behind. The Buckeyes shot 5-of-18 including 1-of-7 from 3 to close out the first half, but it didn’t matter. Nebraska shot 37.5% overall. 

Ouedraogo scored a put-back on Nebraska’s first possession of the second half — his only bucket of the game — and cut the deficit to 14, which is as close as the Huskers got all half. The lead swelled back up to 21 before the 14-minute mark. 

“We gave up 11 scores in the paint in the first half, and in the first six minutes when we called the timeout, they scored seven times in the paint — they were 7-for-7 in the paint,” Hoiberg said. I thought our resistance on the drives was what was disappointing, which was what opened it up for them to begin the second.”

Nebraska’s first 3-pointer came at the 11:29 mark as Jervay Green buried one — to make it an 18-point game. He followed that up with a layup to cut it to 16, but Nebraska scored just 11 points over the final 10-and-a-half minutes. 

The effort on the defensive glass slipped (10 offensive boards for the Buckeyes in the second half) and players started to get visibly frustrated by calls that didn’t go their way. Hoiberg said he’s seen a “here we go again” mentality during this losing streak when things start to go wrong.

“For the most part of the season, our guys have had great effort,” Hoiberg said. “Our guys, especially some individually, have gotten better. When things get tough, you can see it. You can see the heads drop. You can see it in the huddles. It’s just not the same energy. We have to find a way to get past that.” 

The Huskers finished with a season-low three 3-point makes on 16 attempts, and one of those banked in. Ohio State’s defense was focused on taking those 3-point looks away, which opened up driving lanes. However, Nebraska shot just 14-of-35 on layups and Hoiberg said he didn’t love a lot of those attempts. 

“I think we had 44 times in the restricted area, but a lot of those were forced, I thought,” Hoiberg said. “They had nine blocked shots; they first time we played them they had nine and we talked about it and we’ve really been working hard on probing the paint and trying to make the pass to the corner or kick it out with spacing, but too many times we’re trying to challenge at the rim. I think we were 18-for-44 … in the paint, but again, the majority of those 44 I didn’t think were great. A lot of times we’ve had games where we’ve struggled to finish in there, but they’ve been shots that we want. But tonight, those 44, we’ll go back and look at them — a lot of those were forced.”

Nebraska shot 35.6% from the field, 18.8% from 3 and 64.3% from the free-throw line. Ohio State wasn’t much better from the field a 40.3% (24% from 3) but the hot start and 19-of-24 from the foul line was more than enough to create the separation the Buckeyes needed.

Cam Mack made his return to the court after missing the Huskers’ trip to Champaign with an illness and finished with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, two assists and three turnovers in 33 minutes. Dachon Burke Jr. led the Huskers with 13 points but he shot just 5-of-13 from the field including the banked 3-pointer (his only make on four attempts). Ouedraogo led the Huskers with six rebounds, moving past Aleks Maric to set a new program record for rebounds by a freshman.

The Huskers are down to one last home game in the 2019-20 season, a rematch with the only team behind them in the Big Ten standings: Northwestern. The Wildcats beat Nebraska 62-57 back on Jan. 11 to begin Nebraska’s losing streak.

Hoiberg noted that, for whatever reason, the Huskers have seemed to struggle more at home than on the road recently with the trip to Iowa City being the big exception. He’s hoping his team can turn that around on Sunday.

“Illinois I thought we played hard, I really did,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we played extremely hard for 40 minutes. Looking at our road games going back to Maryland and Rutgers and Indiana and the first time we played these guys, we lost by 12. We’ve had games where we’ve had an opportunity … At home, somehow we’ve got to find a way to continue to battle. I’d love to give one to our fans. They’ve been phenomenal for us all season, they’ve been here for us. It would be great to give our fans a win.”

Tipoff is set for 3:30 p.m. CT at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

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