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Free throws key Ohio State to 63-56 win over Nebraska

The SportsXchange

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Ohio State didn't shoot particularly great from the field, but the Buckeyes didn't really need to.

Not with the way they were shooting free throws.

Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored 21 points, and No. 11 Ohio State was 23-of-28 at the foul line, the difference as the Buckeyes defeated Nebraska 63-56 on Saturday night at Devaney Sports Center.

Ohio State (17-4, 7-2 Big Ten) made five fewer field goals than Nebraska (11-12, 2-8) but won because the Huskers attempted only five free throws, making four.

"It's a lot of time how you play, in terms of your style," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "They shot 26 threes, we only shot 12, so we were playing two different types of basketball there."

The 28 free-throw attempts were the most by Ohio State in a Big Ten game this season.

"That was a huge impact on the game," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "They're a very good team when they're on the attack, and they do a great job of not fouling, so you've got to credit Ohio State."

David Rivers scored 13 points to lead three Huskers in double figures.

Deshaun Thomas scored 15 for Ohio State, which shot just 39.1 percent.

Ohio State had defeated Nebraska by 31, 34 and 26 points in three games since Nebraska joined the Big Ten last season, but the Buckeyes ran into a scrappier Husker team this time.

"I thought our mentality was really good, I thought our effort was really good. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to come out on top," Miles said. "It wasn't meant to be, but we know how close we were to maybe making a play tonight."

Ohio State had a 53-38 lead, its biggest of the game, with 9:05 remaining, even though both teams had 16 made field goals.

Nebraska chipped away at the lead, pulling within 56-49 after a Ray Gallegos 3-pointer and a putback by Rivers with 4:26 to play.

Rivers made two free throws with 2:40 to play to pull the Huskers within 58-53.

Matta said he wasn't surprised at Nebraska's comeback.

"We weren't clicking the way we needed to," Matta said. "We come out of a timeout, we've got a read to make, and the read was not there, so just pass it, but we didn't do that. We turn it over.

"Next possession down, we get too deep and we turn it over again. Those are the things you can't let come down on the other end and let it affect the way you are defending. But when you're giving them easy ones, it's hard."

Nebraska had possession after forcing Aaron Craft to miss a long-range jumper, and the Huskers called timeout with 1:45 to play. But after a long possession, Brandon Ubel missed a 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining.

Craft then made two free throws for a 60-53 lead, and Ohio State pulled away.

Nebraska shot 37.1 percent from the field, and only 6-of-26 on three-pointers.

"I thought we had good looks the whole night," Miles said. "We were right on the rim. Our shots were right on target. I thought we had several shots hit inside the back of the rim, which is your target, and rattle in and out."

Ohio State led 32-23 at halftime, thanks to a 10-0 run after Nebraska had surged ahead.

The Buckeyes dominated inside early, collecting four offensive rebounds in the first 3:12 en route to a quick 12-3 lead.

Nebraska bowed up, though, and used a 14-5 run that ignited the second-largest crowd of the season at Devaney Sports Center.

Point guard Benny Parker, who entered the game with just eight points in nine Big Ten games, had back-to-back layups, including one off a turnover, to give Nebraska a 16-14 lead.

Thomas, the Big Ten's leading scorer who started the game 0-of-5 from the field, answered by converting a three-point play. But Gallegos hit a 3-pointer to put Nebraska back ahead 19-17 with 6:08 remaining.

Nebraska didn't score again until Rivers' tip-in with 1:38 remaining broke a 10-0 Ohio State run. The Buckeyes converted two three-point plays in that spurt, and LaQuinton Ross hit a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer that gave Ohio State its biggest lead of the half, 30-19.

After Rivers' basket, Thomas scored on a dunk off a turnover, then Shavon Shields tipped in a missed shot to account for the halftime score.

NOTES: Ohio State handed Nebraska its worst home loss in school history last season, winning 79-45 in Lincoln. ... Reserve center Sergej Vucetic did not suit up for Nebraska. ... Thomas didn't score in the game's first 12:26 but had eight points by halftime. ... Nebraska center Andre Almeida had three blocked shots in the first half, equaling his total in nine Big Ten games entering Saturday.
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