With arguably the greatest basketball coach in recent memory watching courtside, the Ohio State men’s basketball team got back on track at the Schottenstein Center.
The Buckeyes (20-8, 9-6) bounced back from back-to-back losses in emphatic fashion, defeating the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 81-57, Thursday night.
Playing in OSU’s first home game in more than two weeks, freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate said it felt good to be back in front of a home crowd.
“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.”
With New York Knicks president Phil Jackson in the house to presumably scout OSU freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, the Buckeyes opened up an 18-point halftime lead on the struggling Cornhuskers (13-15, 5-11) behind contributions from multiple players not named Russell.
Tate was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field in the opening half, scoring 14 of his career-high 22 points before the break.
OSU coach Thad Matta said after the game that Tate’s performance was one of the reasons the Buckeyes were able to coast to victory.
“I thought Jae’Sean was terrific. He is that guy who has a mentality … there’s not a selfish bone in him,” Matta said. “The plays that he made were there for him, I thought he took great advantage of them. It excites you to coach a kid like that.”
With just three home games left in his Buckeye career, including Thursday night, senior forward Sam Thompson finished with 15 points including a perfect 3-of-3 from behind the arc.
Matta said the Buckeyes are a much more dangerous team when Thompson is hitting from deep.
“It’s big because he can also get inside the paint. His percentage (from 3-point range) has been a little bit low, but if you look historically throughout his career, he has been 35 (percent) plus,” Matta said. “Hopefully he is kind of hitting his groove just in terms of making shots for us because it definitely opens things up for us.”
The Cornhuskers buried back-to-back 3-pointers to open the second half but 12 points was as close as the visitors came in the final frame.
The story was Russell who, under the microscope of Jackson, shot just 3-of-9 from the floor and with 12:44 remaining in the game, went to the locker room with what appeared to be a cramped hamstring.
He emerged from the locker room about four minutes of game time later, but did not return to the floor.
Matta said Russell had been sick throughout the week and was suffering from cramps, likely because of the antibiotics he was taking.
“(I) could have put him back in the game, but I just said, hey, we had a sizeable lead and thought we’ll just save him and let him get some rest for Sunday night,” Matta said.
Russell, despite shooting just 2-of-7 from the field in the first half, tallied five points, five assists and three rebounds in the opening 20 minutes. He finished with 11 points, three rebounds and six assists overall.
The Buckeyes jumped out to their big lead at the half in large part because of their accuracy from long range, hitting on 7-of-12 3-pointers to start the game. Nebraska connected on just three of its first 10 attempts from deep.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said he believes OSU’s fast start doomed his team early on.
“I thought Ohio State’s start was the key to the game. Their defensive pressure did a good job stopping the ball and then that got us standing around,” he said. “If you’re going to contend here, you can’t get down early.”
The Cornhuskers were led by junior guard Terran Petteway, who scored 12 points to go along with three rebounds and three assists.
The loss for Nebraska is its sixth straight, and came in its first game Miles banned his team from the Cornhusker locker rooms after a 28-point loss at home to Iowa on Sunday.
OSU is set to hit the floor again on Sunday against the Purdue Boilermakers at the Schottenstein Center. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m.