No. 6 Ohio State (16-3, 4-2) visits Lincoln to take on the Nebrasky Children of the Corn in the second scheduled meeting of the season. You may recall that the Buckeyes won the first meeting 71-40 back on Jan. 3. Ohio State could have gone scoreless in the second half of that game and still would have won. Jared Sullinger led the way with 19/12, and DeShaun Thomas and William Buford added 15 and 13, respectively. The 31-point win came in spite of 19 OSU turnovers. Three Huskers scored in double figures, accounting for 34 of their 40 points. Toney McCray led with 13, with Brandon Richardson and Bo Spencer kicking in 11 and 10, respectively. No other Husker scored more than two. Nebraska shot just 30.8% overall and 11.1% (2-18) from deep. Nebraska (10-8, 2-5) has won its last two home games and is 2-1 in its last three games overall, after four consecutive losses to open its inaugural B1G season. This includes a big 70-69 upset win over Indiana on Wednesday. The BTN will bring you all the action starting at 8 p.m. Eric Collins and Jim Jackson have the call.
The Buckeyes are just 2-3 on the road this season, but the three losses all came at the hands of teams that are undefeated at home. Two of them came with Sullinger either not playing (Kansas) or severely limited by foul trouble (Indiana). The Huskers are 8-4 on their home floor. Ohio State has won four straight against Nebraska in the series and is 5-2 overall, 1-1 at Lincoln. The Huskers were without junior center Jorge Brian Diaz (#21) and junior guard Dylan Talley (#24) in the first meeting. Both players have been slowed by injuries this season, but both came off the bench in the Indiana win midweek, each scoring 10 points and playing 26+ minutes.
McCray (#0), Richardson (#3) and Spencer (#23) are joined in the starting lineup (recently) by senior guard Caleb Walker (#25) and junior pivot Brandon Urbel (#13). Spencer leads the Nebrasky attack with 15.2 points per game, good for eighth in the conference, and he is tied with Iowa’s Matt Gatens for the league’s top free-throw shooting percentage (86.1%), just a tenth of a percentage point ahead of Buford. McCray kicks in 10.4 points per outing and is hitting 40% outside the arc. He’s also second in rebounding (4.7 RPG). Diaz (9.8 PPG) and Talley (9.2 PPG) are just below double figures. Urbel pulls down 5.3 boards per game to lead the Huskers.
Ohio State wins if: it doesn’t repeat the 19 turnovers from the first meeting. Turnovers are magnified on the road, seemingly more than ever this season. The 17 at Indiana proved to be fatal. With Ohio State’s talent, there is a much greater likelihood of the Buckeyes beating themselves than the Huskers beating them. Shooting better than 45% from the field and avoiding foul trouble would also be a good way to avoid the upset bug. The Buckeyes should play their game, sending the ball inside to Sully and staying active on the perimeter in case of the inevitable double (or triple) team. It will be interesting to see if there is any rust or lethargy after beating the rival Hoosiers and then having almost a full week off.
Nebrasky wins if: Ohio State shoots poorly, gets key players in foul trouble and turns the ball over. But even if all of that happens, someone (or someones) on the Huskers has to step up and have a big night. It doesn’t have to be a 43-point performance a la Brandon Paul at Illinois, but a 20+ night by someone unexpected would go a long way toward a Nebraska upset and the Huskers have to (and should) do better than 2-18 from three. McCray could be the guy who can hurt Ohio State. Also, Spencer has to be better than in the first meeting (5-15 shooting). Aaron Craft’s defense had a lot to do with Spencer’s struggles that night, but it doesn’t explain it in its entirety. Finally, Nebraska must play with energy for 40 minutes. The Huskers can’t afford a letdown after their emotional win against Indiana.
Notes: Thad Matta will be coaching in his 400th career game. He is 308-91 in the first 399…Sullinger and Buford are among the 25 finalists for the 2012 Wooden Award, given annually to the top player in college basketball…Craft’s 2.5 steals per game leads the B1G…The Buckeyes still lead the nation in scoring margin, at +21.3 points per game…Buford is still eighth on the all-time OSU scoring list. Don’t expect him to catch Jay Burson for seventh in this game. He’d need a Brandon Paul-esque 43 points to do that.