It didn’t look pretty early, but after a rough start in Lincoln Nebraska, it was Ohio State running away at the end of the first half to secure a 63-56 victory.
Despite struggling to find the basket and facing defensive lapses in the opening minutes, the Buckeyes answered strongly in the last 5 minutes of the stanza, going on a 15-2 run to start the ballgame. Ohio State used their physicality to their benefit by getting to the basket and drawing the whistle. Despite shooting 35% in the first half, Thad Matta’s Bucks were able to take a 32-23 lead into the locker room on 10/10 shooting from the line.
After being outworked in the first five minutes by Andrea Almeida, Amir Williams settled into his own. Almeida had three blocks in the first 5 minutes, but Amir found his positioning to the tune of 6 points, five rebounds, and two steals in the first half. The big man did struggle with position and defense in the second half, but finished 8 rebounds. He would score on 7/8 shooting from the free throw line.
The Buckeyes went to the locker room following a beautiful stolen pass from Aaron Craft which led to a Deshaun Thomas thunder jam off the backhanded assist. It was one of four dunks on the night. The other three came from Slam Master Thompson.
Lenzelle Smith played lights out offensively. After opening the game with a good look for three from the far wing, the guard known for his defense and rebounding ability would go 6/6 from the field including another three to answer a run in the second half. He had a quiet 21 points to lead all scorers while shooting 3/3 from downtown.
Deshaun Thomas was quiet in the first, but did emerge in the second half. Six minutes into the second frame, the scoring machine got a jumper and drew the foul. He would follow that up on the next possession with another jumper. Despite starting 0/6 from the floor to start the game, the conference scoring leader would finish with 15 points.
Down 53-48 with 8 minutes to go, Nebraska would make a small run to try and close the gap with Aaron Craft out of the ballgame.
But when the swoon machine re-entered the ballgame he forced a five second violation to give Ohio State some momentum. He would also add a reverse layup to make it 56-49.
Just when it looked like the game was out of reach, the Huskers closed it to five with just two minutes to play.
After forcing a long three with a short time on the shot clock, Nebraska couldn’t answer thanks to the defense of Aaron Craft. After holding his defender at the top of the key, Craft would hustle to the basketball on the far sideline and be forced out of bounds — turning to a human missile diving over the scorer’s table.
Despite the contact, Craft would be called for the foul. He would bounce back though and play solid on ball defense in the final minute. He finished with a strong 14 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks.
Overall the Buckeyes did a good job of answering back scoring drives in the first half and for most of the second. But again, struggled to close out a ballgame on the road. the Huskers ended the night on a solid 14-10 run that included a 6-0 spirt that got them back in the game late.
Overall, Ohio State shot 39% from the floor but a solid 82% (23/28) from the charity stripe.
Up next for Ohio State is Michigan in Ann Arbor on Tuesday.
It is no secret that Urban Meyer has been less than enthusiastic about the offensive fire power he inherited on Ohio State’s roster.
Meyer has repeatedly said that he is still waiting for someone to catch his eye as a game changer on that side of the ball.
While I suspect that Meyer is serving the dual purpose of motivating the current roster and enticing future recruits with his words, the fact remains that the Buckeyes need to see improvement from the offense and quickly.
The best way to do that is to identify the impact players on the team and get them the ball as much as possible.
Even with Urban Meyer at the helm, that may take a bit longer than we would like to admit, particularly when you look back at last season.
Then again, this is Ohio State and there is plenty of talent to utilize despite the results from last year.
Watching who the offense focuses on in the spring game (or at least what positions are focused on if the starters are split up) will give us a great glimpse at the future stars and game changers for the coming season.
Here is a look at my early top five impact players in next year’s offense.