Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Supporting Cast Steps Up as Huskers Top Buckeyes

January 18, 2023

Nebraska used contributions from up and down the lineup to protect home court on Wednesday, holding on for a 63-60 win against Ohio State.

The Huskers had to overcome Derrick Walker fouling out in just 23 minutes in addition to injuries that kept Juwan Gary and Blaise Keita out of the lineup, but they made enough plays down the stretch to pick up their 10th win of the season, matching the total from all of last season.

Sam Griesel returned to the court after a hip injury sidelined him at Purdue on Saturday and led the team with 15 points (including a pair of 3s), seven rebounds and three assists. Keisei Tominaga logged his second start of the season after Coach Fred Hoiberg moved C.J. Wilcher to the bench in an effort to get him going. Tominaga added 11 points despite shooting just 1-for-6 from 3, doing most of his damage on drives or cuts.

Walker had 10 rebounds, eight points and four assists before fouling back while Denim Dawson, starting in place of the injured Gary, chipped in seven points and eight rebounds n a career-high 30 minutes while defending Ohio State’s star freshman, Brice Sensabaugh.

“I was really proud of Denim,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Sensabaugh who is one of the tougher covers in this league. You see that body, how strong he is, how he gets to his spot, and Denim made him work for everything that he got. He got going a little bit in the second half, but Denim defensively in that first half really kept us in the game.”

After a brutal first half for both teams, Nebraska (10-9, 3-5 Big Ten) found some offensive rhythm in the second half to finish at 41.1% from the field including 28.6% from 3. The Huskers doubled up the Buckeyes in the paint, 32 to 16. Ohio State (10-8, 2-6) shot 35.7% from the field and made one less 3 than Nebraska. 

“I want to say how proud I am of our guys for coming out and showing a lot of resolve in that first half,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, it was a rock fight out there and the ball wasn’t going through the hoop on either side, but we didn’t hang our heads after missing, I thought, some really good looks out there, and I thought we kept guarding.”

Sensabaugh scored a game-high 18 points, but it took him 16 shot attempts and four free-throw attempts to get there. He had a double-double with 10 rebounds, as did big man Zed Kay (11 points and 10 boards), but Nebraska limited Ohio State to just six offensive boards and five second-chance points.

Nebraska got off to a great defensive start as Ohio State missed 10 of its first 11 shots from the field. The Huskers struggled as well but got 3s from Dawson and Griesel plus a layup from Tominaga on a cut to the basket to take an 8-3 lead seven minutes in.

The offensive woes continued for both teams and Ohio State pulled within one five different times, but Nebraska stretched the lead back out to six at 19-13. The highlight of that stretch was Tominaga going one-on-three for a three-point play in transition.

Freshman Jamarcus Lawrence found his way to the rim for a layup to put Nebraska up 21-15 with just over three minutes to play, which proved to be Nebraska’s last bucket of the half.

Sensabaugh, who entered the game averaging 16.9 points per game, missed his first eight shots from the field. His first points didn’t come until a pair of free throws that preceded Lawrence’s layup. However, seeing the ball go through the rim was seemingly all he needed because he scored at the basket on the next possession, then hit a 3 on the possession after that.

Sean McNeil hit a mid-range jumper to complete a 7-0 Buckeye run and give Ohio State it’s first lead since 2-0. Neither team scored in the final 1:45 of the half, and Ohio State took the 22-21 lead into the locker room.

Nebraska shot 30% from the field including 2-for-14 from 3. Tominaga made his free throw, but Griesel missed all three of his. The Huskers also turned the ball over seven times.

Ohio State shot 26.7% from the field including 1-for-7 from 3, but the Buckeyes hit five of their six free throws to earn the narrow advantage at the break despite scoring just four points in the paint.

In the face of the offensive struggles, Dawson said the halftime message was simple: just keep playing hard. 

“Once you keep playing hard and you just keep fighting, basketball eventually rewards you, and that’s what it did in the second half,” Dawson said.

Tominaga opened the second half with another cut to the basket, but Ohio State responded with five straight to take its largest lead of the day at 27-23. Then Griesel put the team on his back, sparking a 13-6 Nebraska run including a 3 and a three-point play to put Nebraska up 36-33.

Walker went to the bench with his third foul during the Nebraska run. Ohio State took advantage of his absence to jump ahead with a 5-0 run, and Hoiberg went back to his veteran big man after a two-and-a-half-minute stint on the bench.

Walker immediately went to work in the post to tie it up, but he committed his fourth foul on the other end and returned to the bench.

The Huskers needed others to step up with their leader on the bench, and the underclassmen delivered. Nebraska went bucket-for-bucket for a stretch, then surged ahead to take a 55-49 lead. Nebraska got buckets from Wilcher (a 3), Dawson (two highlight-reel layups), Oleg Kojenets, Lawrence (a 3) and Wilhelm Breidenbach (a layup and a free throw) during that seven-minute stretch.

“Really, everybody that stepped on the floor — Keisei and C.J. in new roles, I thought, both gave us good minutes out there,“ Hoiberg said. “I thought Jamarques off the bench was terrific. Wilhem continues to make great plays, hustle plays on both ends of the floor. When Derrick went out, I think we scored on four straight possessions, and that hasn’t been a theme for this team. When Derrick has been on the bench, we’ve really struggled to score more than usual.” 

The offense eventually dried up, however, as Nebraska went three minutes without scoring. Walker fouled out on a charge with just over two minutes to play and Ohio State trimmed the lead down to two with a Sensabaugh free throw at the 1:51 mark.

Free throws from Emmanuel Bandoumel pushed it back to four then Griesel made an incredible defensive play, stripping Key inside and re-establishing himself in bounds before tapping the ball to Bandoumel to secure possession for Nebraska. 

On the other end, Nebraska chewed up the shot clock then Griesel found Bandoumel cutting down the lane for just his second bucket of the game to put the Huskers ahead by six with a minute to go.

Ohio State didn’t go away, scoring on three straight possessions to dig into the deficit. However, Nebraska hit enough free throws (4-for-6) in the final minutes to hold on. Ohio State had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer as McNeil pump-faked into a clean look, but it circled the rim and popped out to close out the Buckeyes’ fifth straight loss.

Nebraska shot 53.8% from the field in the second half including 4-for-7 from deep. All nine players that saw the floor scored, led by Griesel with 10.

“We got a nice rhythm in the second half,” Hoiberg said. “Having a 42-point half will hopefully help us have confidence on that end to string together 40 minutes. But I thought we had good looks. I thought we even missed some good shots in the second half. Keisei had a couple, C.J. had a couple that I am confident will go down. We had really good offensive practices the last few days and we had 20 good minutes tonight. Hopefully that carries over to next game.”

After the game, Hoiberg announced that Gary will miss the rest of the season and likely undergo surgery next week to address the shoulder injury he suffered against Illinois. Recovery should take five to six months and he should be ready to go for next season.

“There’s just a lot of damage in that shoulder, and I’ll let our trainers, doctors talk about exactly what the diagnosis is, but he needs surgery and there’s no chance,” Hoiberg said. “We were hoping that he could rehab it, get functional, get his movement and mobility back. He was going to need surgery anyway and we didn’t think there would be a chance to do further damage, but that play that he had, the injury against Illinois where he kind of wrenched back, he got a pretty good tear in that shoulder. 

“It’s unfortunate, but again, it’s an opportunity for the guys that stepped up tonight for us to get significant minutes. We’re going to miss him. He does a lot of great things for this team.”

This season rolls on, and the Huskers will head to Penn State on Saturday for their first meeting with the Nittany Lions.

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