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Buckeyes shake off sluggish start, trample Cornhuskers

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- After a brief scare, Ohio State is moving on. The No. 2-seeded Buckeyes toppled 10-seeded Nebraska 71-50 on Tuesday to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.

It took Ohio State (24-7, 13-5 Big Ten) a few minutes to get acquainted with its new surroundings in the United Center, but by the end Thad Matta had emptied his bench.

Third-seeded Ohio State faces second-seeded Michigan State in Saturday's second Big Ten semifinal. Top-seeded Indiana plays fourth-seeded Wisconsin in the first semifinal.

The Buckeyes fell behind 14-6 early in the game, but roared back with a 12-0 run to take the lead. Ohio State led by just five at the half, but they opened the second half on a 26-5 run and never looked back.

"I'm hoping it continues. The worst thing we can do is relax and expect everything to kind of just happen," OSU junior Aaron Craft said.

"I think that's what we did at the beginning of the game. I think we just rolled it out and didn't try to execute or anything like that. We have a lot of things going our way, we just need to continue to build off of it."

Deshaun Thomas was benched momentarily in the opening minutes of the game, but the Big Ten's leading-scorer responded with a game-high 19 points and nine rebounds for Ohio State.

Sophomore Sam Thompson also scored 19 points and classmate LaQuinton Ross tallied 11 in 19 minutes off the bench. At one point, Ross connected on three-straight 3s to give Ohio State a 50-28 lead with 13:05 to play in the game.

"Sam Thompson, I think he's just developed and improved," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said of the Chicago native.

"He didn't look as good shooting the ball earlier in the year as he does now. Every time he jumped up, it looked like it was going to go in.

Senior center Brandon Ubel scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead Nebraska (15-18, 5-13). Freshman Shavon Shields chipped in with 14 points, but junior Ray Gallegos was limited to just six points on 2 of 12 shooting in his matchup with Craft. Gallegos was 1 of 8 eight behind the arc.

Craft tallied seven points, eight assists and two steals. The Buckeyes shot 59 percent from the floor and 53 percent from behind the arc. They shot 77 percent in the second half, while Nebraska was held to 3 of 19 shooting from long-range for the game.

"We kind of did it to ourselves to start the second half," Miles said. "Their ability to get in transition and hurt us off their defensive pressure was the key to the game."

With the season on the line, Nebraska came out looking like a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Cornhuskers, fresh off a 57-55 win over Purdue on Thursday night, played with more energy and enthusiasm than the Buckeyes, who had been off since their 18-point win over Illinois last Sunday.

Ohio State fell behind 9-4 in the opening minutes of the game. Matta briefly benched Thomas, his star player and the leading-scorer in last year's NCAA Tournament, for his lackluster effort on defense.

With his team trailing 14-6 after six minutes, Matta got after his players in the huddle during a timeout. The Buckeyes responded with a 12-1 run, and it started at the defensive end with point guards Craft and Shannon Scott.

"He's really settled into that position here lately. And you know, he has a great understanding of what he needs to do when he comes into the basketball game," Matta said of Scott.

"I love having something coming in that, I don't want to say is game changing, but it's a different look for Ohio State. There's a different pace. There's a different tempo," Matta added.

The Cornhuskers went nearly six minutes without a point while Craft and Scott were in the backcourt together. The Buckeyes turned a 15-6 deficit into an 18-15 lead before Shields finally put an end to the Buckeyes' 12-0 run with a layup at the 7:25 mark of the half.

Ohio State closed out the first half on a 22-8 run and took a 28-23 lead into the locker room when Thomas sank three free throws after being fouled in the corner on a long-distance jumper. Thomas finished with eight points and four rebounds in the first half, while Scott, Craft and Sam Thompson each added five points.

Shields led the way for Nebraska with eight first-half points. Ubel added six and guard Dylan Talley had five points at the break.

Nebraska actually outshot Ohio State in the first half -- 45 percent to 41 percent -- but the Buckeyes were 7 of 9 at the free-throw line with only four turnovers. Ohio State cranked up the intensity in the second half, connecting on 11 of their first 12 shots from the floor.

The Cornhuskers were outscored 43-27 in the second half.

NOTES: With eight assists, Craft became just the third Buckeye in history to reach 500 assists. ... Matta improved his record to 48-12 in the month of March. It is the fourth-best winning percentage among active coaches and the best among Big Ten coaches. ... Ohio State is 20-9 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes have won seven of their last eight quarterfinal games and 16 of their last 20 games in the tourney overall.
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