LINCOLN, Neb. — Basketball can be a fickle game.
Nebraska found that out the hard way on Wednesday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Huskers were 1.9 seconds away from a much-needed victory against Ohio State. If Nebraska had made more than 55 percent of its free throws, Nebraska wins. If the Huskers could have secured one last rebound, Nebraska wins. If the Huskers had gotten one more stop, Nebraska wins.
If, if, if.
Unfortunately for the Husker faithful, including the 13,842 in attendance, none of that happened. What did happen is simply a bit of bad luck.
Leading 66-65 with 1.9 on the clock and the ball on the baseline, Ohio State set up a play. Kam Williams made a V-cut and Glynn Watson Jr. simply lost his footing and fell down. Tai Webster saw Williams cutting in front of him with nobody on him and switched onto him, leaving Marc Loving all alone.
Loving caught the ball and laid it in with 0.6 remaining.
“I don’t care what you run, if you fall down you are going to give up a layup and that is what happened,” Tim Miles said.
Webster said the Huskers (9-9, 3-3) were supposed to switch everything on defense and that he didn’t see that Watson had fallen down.
Nebraska threw the ball downcourt hoping for a miracle but were not as fortunate as the Buckeyes (12-7, 2-4).
The Huskers ran into trouble early as both centers, Michael Jacobson and Jordy Tshimanga, picked up two fouls before the first media timeout. After the break, Tim Miles had little choice but to go back to Jacobson, who managed to avoid further fouls the rest of the half.
After falling behind 9-4 early, the Huskers reeled off a 15-4 run capped by Jack McVeigh’s first career dunk to take a 19-13 lead. The Huskers continued to pour it on, converting four straight shots to expand their lead to 10.
A layup by Nick Fuller, his first points of the season, followed by a 3-pointer by Webster boosted the lead to 12, Nebraska’s biggest advantage. Fuller had to fill in at the five with Tshimanga in foul trouble and Jacobson needing a breather and he held his own as Nebraska was plus-2 with him on the floor in the first half.
“Obviously [the foul trouble] changes the rotations,” Jacobson said. “Some different guys had to come in and play. But I thought they did a great job. Nick Fuller did a heck of a job in there. Playing five, he’s obviously undersized and I think he did a good job battling.”
Ohio State scored six straight to pull within five, but a 3-pointer by McVeigh put the Huskers back up 40-32 with 1:58 to play in the half, and neither team scored the rest of the way.
Nebraska shot 50 percent from the field and forced 11 Ohio State turnovers in the first half, but the Buckeyes hit five 3-pointers and made seven free throws (the Huskers were 0-of-2 at the line) to keep within striking distance.
“We played a really good first half,” Miles said. “Nine assists, 18 field goals. We built a lead, kept the lead, played a very steady defensive game.”
Ohio State turned the tables in the second half, chipping away at Nebraska’s lead throughout the half as the Huskers’ offense ground to a halt. After trading buckets for a few possessions, Ohio State finally took its first lead since 9-7 on a blown pick-and-roll coverage that resulted in a dunk by Ohio State 7-footer Trevor Thompson.
After a timeout to regroup, the Huskers re-took the lead on a dunk by Michael Jacobson. Thompson responded with a put-back on the other end and Ohio State played from ahead for most of the remainder.
Trailing 65-63, Nebraska got the ball to Jacobson inside and he drew Thompson’s fifth foul with 1:34 remaining. Jacobson hit both free throws to cut the deficit to one and Thad Matta decided to go with an all-guard-and-wing lineup without Thompson.
Sophomore guard CJ Jackson missed a 3-pointer and Tai Webster took advantage of Ohio State’s lack of rim-protectors on the floor by attacking the basket and scoring on a tough shot, putting Nebraska up 66-65 with 34 seconds left.
The Buckeyes chose to run down the clock before finding Marc Loving in the corner for a decent look from 3, but the shot missed. However, Ohio State point guard JaQuan Lyle managed to grab the rebound and call timeout with 1.9 seconds on the clock, setting up the final sequence.
After turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, Ohio State did not commit a single turnover in the second.
“I feel like we were screening a lot better,” Loving said. “We were setting up our cuts a lot better. We kind of settled down. We were a little frantic almost in the first half. We ended up settling down and it worked out with no turnovers.”
Nebraska shot 29.2 percent in the final 20 minutes and missed seven of their 18 free throw attempts.
“We come out the second half and we get seven field goals, they get 17,” Miles said. “They get us 30-10 in the paint. We don’t force a turnover. I said ‘that’s the problem.’ Then, we don’t close the game. From 3:58 to 2:07 we go 0-for-2 at the line, then we come down and get a 3. Then we go miss a layup, and then we come back and miss two free throws. At the same time, we only hold them in those two-plus minutes and they only score one time. We should have a three, four, five-point lead by the time we took the lead.”
Webster finished with a game-high 18 points and Jacobson and junior guard Evan Taylor each contributed 11 points and eight rebounds. After scoring eight points and dishing out three assists in the first half, Watson went 1-of-7 for two points and no assists after halftime.
Nebraska was outrebounded by eight and outscored 15-7 on second chance points. Four Buckeyes finished in double figures scoring led by Loving’s 15 points and 11 rebounds.
After the game, Jacobson gathered his teammates and shared a few words with them.
“I know it’s going to hurt a lot for everybody,” Jacobson said. “That one definitely stings. I feel like we had control of the game, obviously, the entire first half maybe had some chance to put them away and we didn’t. To come back and play that bad in the second half and end up with an L, especially in a tight conference this year and now we’re .500 [in the Big Ten] and we feel like maybe we should be better than that. I just said ‘I know it hurts; wet have to get ready and come back Saturday. We can’t keep letting this thing slide.’”