After beating Michigan yesterday, Ohio State’s faced Nebraska in today’s Big Ten Tournament semi-final game. The Buckeyes and Cornhuskers split their regular season meetings with Ohio State winning in Columbus back in January and Nebraska winning in Lincoln to close the regular season. In their second meeting Nebraska had considerable success attacking the paint while their smothering defense frustrated the Buckeyes.
The game started off as a defensive battle with neither offense getting a lot of breathing room however Ohio State slowly managed to build a 10-2 lead over the first six and a half minutes. The two teams slowly began trading baskets but the Buckeyes managed to extend their lead to 21-8 with just over seven minutes remaining in the half. Nebraska had struggled to hit shots so far but that couldn’t last forever and the Cornhuskers got hot as they traded three-pointers with Ohio State before scoring 16 straight to take a 27-24 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the half. OSU finally ended the run with a Samantha Prahalis jumper but they could not stop Nebraska. To make matters worse, Prahalis had a flashback to her old lack of emotional control and earned a technical foul after dropping the f-bomb while complaining about the lack of a call. Even more concerning than Prahalis’s emotional slip was that she was limping the final minutes of the half as Nebraska extended their lead slightly to go into the locker room up 36-30.
The first half was two completely separate games with Ohio State dominating at the start and then Nebraska completely taking over. The Cornhuskers started out shooting 2 of 21 but then hit their next 10 straight shots, most of those from outside. While Nebraska’s shooting deserves a lot of credit, their improved performance was in large part due to Ohio State’s defense losing energy. The Buckeyes were all over the Cornhuskers to start the game, allowing no open looks, but that defensive intensity faded and the Cornhuskers started finding open looks from outside as the Buckeyes became lazy. The defensive struggles frustrated OSU and they started rushing their offensive, settling for poor shots.
Ohio State’s struggles continued to start the second half as after a Buckeye basket, Nebraska scored 12 unanswered to stretch their lead to 48-32 just five minutes into the half. The two teams began to trade baskets with Ohio State finally scoring but they could not stop the Cornhuskers’ hot shooting and never could mount anything resembling a comeback. The Buckeyes briefly got the lead down to 12 in the last two minutes but a Cornhusker three-pointer on the next possession put the game out of reach and Nebraska ended Ohio State’s streak of three straight Big Ten Tournament titles with a 77-62 victory.
Samantha Prahalis led the Buckeyes with 23 points and 4 assists but she committed a season-high 8 turnovers. Tayler Hill put up 10 points but really struggled shooting, hitting only 4 of 16 from the field and going 0 for 6 from beyond-the-arc, she did pull down 6 rebounds. Amber Stokes and Ashley Adams each grabbed 8 rebounds while scoring 6 and 2 points respectively. The brightest spot for the Buckeyes was the performance of Raven Ferguson who came off the bench to score 13 points and come up with 3 steals while showing some good ability to attack the basket.
Ohio State started today playing well; they had great defensive intensity and completely took Nebraska out of their game. However the Cornhuskers adjusted and went on a run and suddenly this looked like the emotionally fragile Buckeye teams that we have seen in recent years. The Buckeyes let their frustrations on the defensive end impact their offense while at the same time they lost defensive focus and intensity. The complete collapse of the effort on defense makes me wonder if the team wasn’t thinking that there was no way they could lose this game. No Buckeye player had ever lost in the Big Ten Tournament and that stretch had included some impressive comebacks, maybe that led to a complacency among the players.
Ohio State leaves Indianapolis knowing that they will be going to the NCAA tournament but their seed is definitely in doubt. What started out as a promising season has fallen apart down the stretch and now the Buckeyes are in need of some major regrouping if they do not want an early exit from the NCAA tournament. Fortunately there are two weeks between now and the start of the Big Dance so the team has a lot of time to recuperate and work on fixing the issues that have reared their ugly head in the past month. This team still has the talent needed to make a deep run in March but there are some major mental issues that need to be addressed for that to happen. Ohio State will learn what seed it will get in the NCAA tournament a week from Monday during the NCAA selection show; my guess is that it will be a 4 seed.