Ohio State traveled to Lincoln today hoping to head into conference play on a winning streak and improve their seeding for the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes had already locked up their spot in the conference but a win on the road against a ranked team would be a big statement for a team that has struggled down the stretch.
Ohio State jumped out to an early 8-4 lead as Samantha Prahalis scored the first 5 points for the Buckeyes. Nebraska came right back with a 9 to 2 run to take a 13-10 lead. The Buckeyes briefly retook the lead thanks to five straight points but then the Cornhuskers went on an 18 to 1 run to take a 31-16 lead with six minutes remaining in the half. During that stretch the Buckeye offense looked rattled and they could do nothing defensively to prevent the Cornhuskers from attacking inside. A pair of Tayler Hill free throws broke the Nebraska run and ignited a 6 to 0 mini-run for Ohio State which cut the Cornhusker lead back to single digits, 31-22. The two teams began trading baskets for the rest of the half with Ohio State getting the lead down to 6 but Nebraska scored the last four points of the half to head into the locker room up 39-29.
Ohio State only shot 37% in the first half and committed 10 turnovers. Most of the turnovers and missed shots came during the Nebraska run when the Buckeye offense was clearly rattled and forcing things instead of sticking to their game. The Cornhuskers shot an impressive 53% from the field in the first half, most coming from inside as they attacked the basket with abandon.
Ohio State scored the first three points of the second half but then quickly resumed struggling on both ends as Nebraska went on a 13 to 4 run to take a 52-36 lead with twelve minutes remaining in the game. The Buckeyes put together six straight points to cut the lead to 10 and give OSU fans some hope but Nebraska quickly retook control. Ohio State could not get any sustained run going after that and Nebraska coasted to a 71-57 victory.
Samantha Prahalis led the Buckeyes with 18 points and also dished out 3 assists. Tayler Hill added 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals but committed 6 urnovers. Amber Stokes added 8 points while Ashley Adams added 4 points and 11 rebounds. The Buckeyes struggled shooting the ball, shooting 32% from the floor and going 3 of 19 from beyond-the-arc. While the Buckeyes forced 16 turnovers, they committed 17 of their own. The one bit of good news was that OSU won the rebounding battle 34 to 33.
This game was another example of the problems that have plagued Ohio State for much of the season, especially down the stretch. While the Buckeye offense has shown few signs of missing Jantel Lavender this season, their defense has definitely missed her as they have struggled to defender teams inside. Nebraska took advantage of that, as several other teams have done, repeatedly attacking inside and doing so with great success. OSU’s inability to find an answer on defense carried over to their offense as the Buckeyes got frustrated and began forcing up shots as opposed to playing the way they normally do. Nebraska’s good shooting also meant that the Buckeyes did not get good opportunities in transition where OSU normally can take advantage of their speed to get easy points. The Cornhusker defense does deserve a lot of credit as they did a good job of pressuring the Buckeyes and not allowing Hill and Prahalis to find easy shots.
This season started with such hope for Ohio State as the team got off to the best start in program history, far exceeding expectations, thanks to an explosive offense and a mental toughness that helped them down the stretch in many close games. Then Big Ten season hit and problems started as teams began to take advantage of Ohio State’s young frontcourt. Those problems have intensified down the stretch as the Buckeyes have now lost 4 of their last 8. The most disturbing part of these losses is that the team has lost that mental toughness that fueled so many of their wins to start the season. Now defensive struggles are clearly getting into the players’ heads and they are forcing stuff on offense, desperate to make a play as opposed to sticking to the game plan. Even when they aren’t rushing shots, the offense is showing a lot less movement without the ball and the ball is not being reversed as much as it should, forcing players to take worse shots.
The Buckeyes have really struggled on the road during conference play, losing 5 of their 8 conference road games, and with no more home games on the schedule the team really needs to figure out how to play away from Value City Arena or their year will be over very soon. Hopefully practices this week will focus on interior defense as an improvement there would go a long way toward fixing the team’s problems. The good news is that the Buckeyes have done a much better job rebounding in their last two games so maybe that is a sign that they can address their weaknesses. The Buckeyes will be the 2nd seed in the Big Ten tournament and will play the winner of the Michigan-Illinois game on Friday at 11:30 am, the game will be on BTN.