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.
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. 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 triples to give Ohio State a 50-28 lead with 13:05 to play in the game.
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 OSU point guard Aaron 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, while Nebraska was held to 3 of 19 shooting from long-range.
With the season on the line, Nebraska came out looking like a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain on Friday night. The Cornhuskers, fresh off a 57-55 win over Purdue, 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 Deshaun 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.
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 their 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 rooms 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.
The Cornhuskers were outscored 43-27 in the second half.
NOTES: With Ohio State's win, the No. 2 seed improved to 19-9 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament. ... 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.
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