An NBA coaching legend was in Columbus to likely scout a freshman from Louisville, Ky., but it was a native son who stole the show for the Ohio State men’s basketball team.
Freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate scored a career-high 22 points in an 81-57 drubbing of the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Schottenstein Center on Thursday night.
The Pickerington, Ohio, product scored 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting in the first half alone, finishing from all over the floor, including a 3-pointer.
Tate, who has become known for his relentless effort on the court, earned high praise from his coach after the game.
“There’s not a selfish bone in him,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “He found some seams for some layups and he’s so competitive. With that said, it excites you to coach a kid like that. Not just the 22 points and seven rebounds, I just love his energy.”
Not only did Tate lead the Buckeyes in both points and boards Thursday night, but he also added a block and two steals in 28 minutes of play against the Cornhuskers.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Tate’s play was one of the many reasons OSU was able to coast to a victory.
“We had three guys in a row didn’t get to his left hand to stop him from driving, he drives right by ‘em,” Miles said. “He’s a bit of a truck in there. He takes contact well and still finishes. Even though he doesn’t have a huge height advantage, he is so strong. He is able to deliver contact as much as take contact and finish shots.”
But what makes Tate so successful despite playing forward at just 6-foot-4?
“It comes from heart. I have pride, and I take it personally,” Tate said after his career night. “I love a challenge, and I think that mindset raises my energy level, and makes me go out there and play hard.”
While Tate had arguably the best game of his young career, it wasn’t just him contributing.
Seniors Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott piled in 15 and 13 points, respectively, and freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, whose play was magnified with New York Knicks president Phil Jackson in the building, added 11 points and six assists despite playing reduced minutes because of cramps.
Tate, who finished 8-of-9 shooting from the field, attributed the Buckeyes’ offensive success to an amped-up level of intensity.
“It’s pace more than anything. We executed at a high level, and that comes from practicing hard the past few days and carrying it over to the game,” he said. “When we’re playing at a fast pace and executing, nobody can stop us.”
The Buckeyes are set to return to their home floor on Sunday against Purdue, a team that beat OSU, 60-58, on Feb. 4.
Tate said returning home against Nebraska after back-to-back losses was an added luxury that didn’t necessarily affect the Buckeyes’ play.
“It definitely feels good to be home. It feels like we haven’t been home in forever. But I just think the team buckled down,” he said. “We needed this win and we just came together and started playing Ohio State basketball.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to play two of their final three games within the confines of the Schottenstein Center, with the lone road game coming against Penn State on Wednesday.
Tip against the Boilermakers is set for 7:30 p.m.