Four games, four losses, less than 60 points and 40 percent or far worse from the field.
That was the story of Ohio State’s offense entering Tuesday’s matchup with Nebraska.
With sophomore guards Duane Washington and Luther Muhammad suspended for a violation of team expectations, odds appeared high the story would drive on — even against the Big Ten’s worst scoring defense.
Instead, Ohio State took a step toward, breaking that narrative with an 80-point output in a win against Nebraska that included a 55-percent performance from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range. Six players scored in double figures.
“Overall, a little bit better ball movement is something I would point to,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said. “It just moved a little quicker. And we were able to attack them in ways and get to the paint more than we had in previous games.”
Given that the Buckeye guards shot 29 percent with 33 turnovers and 21 assists during the skid and both suspended players were significant contributors at the position, there was a lot working against redshirt junior CJ Walker and freshman D.J. Carton against the Cornhuskers.
Not the least of which being that both are point guards by nature and would have to rotate between point and shooting guard.
Walker scored a game-high 18 points and Carton tied for No. 2 on the team at 13. The duo combined for nine assists.
When Nebraska cut Ohio State’s lead to 56-43 in the second half, Walker scored the final eight points with two 3s on a 12-0 Buckeye run that put the game out of reach at 68-43.
“We’ve always had great chemistry,” Walker said. “More than just basketball — off the court as well. We’re really good friends, really good brothers. We go at each other every day in practice. That chemistry is just there.”
His role with Walker wasn’t the only important tandem Carton belonged to.
He’s one of two impact Ohio State freshmen, with forward E.J. Liddell, and both have been precariously ineffective during the losing streak.
Carton scored 14 points in the loss against Maryland, but did so on 5-for-16 shooting. He scored 10 against Indiana, but turned the ball over seven times.
Liddell failed to score more than three points in each of the four defeats.
Holtmann said his message to both has been to define their game not by their offense, but by how the team is performing while it’s on the court.
“If your game’s defined, your effort’s defined, by just your offense, you’re gonna struggle,” Holtmann said. “All of them are still learning that, all of our freshmen, because they’ve been defined by offense for the better part of the last few years.”
The two produced in tandem with regularity Tuesday. Liddell put together 10 points of his own and pinned a Cornhusker shot to the backboard.
Carton opened Ohio State’s second half scoring with a strong drive to the rim resulting in three points the old-fashioned way.
Less than 90 seconds later, he earned three points with a shot from beyond the arc, growing the Buckeyes’ lead to 46-28.
Liddell hit a 3 of his own the next trip down the floor.
With 11:42 remaining in the first half, Carton made a crisp no-look pass while driving down the lane to establish an easy dunk for Liddell.
Holtmann said Carton played more “under control” Tuesday, as the Iowa native turned the ball over just twice in 38 minutes.
“He’s a young kid, and he gets bothered when he makes mistakes,” Holtmann said. “Too bothered, to be honest with you. I’ve gotta work with him on that. He’s not gonna play perfect. He’s trying hard. He’s doing his best. As long as he embraces what we’re trying to coach him to do relative to his turnovers and as long as he’s listening, that’s all we expect.”
Junior forward Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State’s leading scorer and rebounder, did his expected work with 13 points and 14 rebounds against the Cornhuskers.
It was his brother, senior forward Andre Wesson, who stole the show early, however. Ohio State fell behind 4-0 to open the game but Wesson hit three straight triples to give the Buckeyes a 9-4 advantage — the only time the lead changed hands.
“He’s a sniper,” Kaleb Wesson said. “You know what snipers do? They shoot from long range. Long range, they hit. That’s what he does.”
Junior forward Kyle Young, who missed two games after an appendectomy and was limited in the team’s previous contest against Indiana, broke himself back into competition with 10 points and six boards.
Even sophomore forward Justin Ahrens, who had not scored more than four points in a game since Nov. 11 against Purdue-Fort Wayne, scored five points with one made 3 against Nebraska.
Ahrens cashed in a toe-on-the-line 2 as the clock expired for halftime, extending Ohio State’s lead to 38-25 at the break.
Ohio State will have a chance to extend its shade of offensive momentum against Penn State noon Saturday.