The Nebraska men’s basketball team had an answer for everything No. 23 Ohio State tried Tuesday night, as the Huskers led for the entire second half to upset the Buckeyes 78-70 and give Fred Hoiberg his first win over a ranked opponent at Nebraska.
Nebraska trailed by five late in the first half before scoring eight straight points. The 8-0 run gave the Huskers a 33-30 lead with 4:34 left in the opening half and Nebraska led the rest of the way. With their second Big Ten road win in three days, the Huskers improved to 9-21 on the season and 3-16 in conference action.
In a battle of the Big Ten’s top two freshmen, Bryce McGowens was outstanding for the Big Red. He scored 26 points on 8-of-15 shooting while knocking down 8-of-9 free throws. McGowens scored 14 second-half points to help the Huskers hold the lead.
While McGowens was scoring, Alonzo Verge Jr. was outstanding running the Husker offense. Verge had a double-double with 13 points and 11 assists while adding five rebounds. He had nine assists in the first half and then scored nine points in the second half. C.J. Wilcher scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Trey McGowens chipped in seven points, six rebounds and four steals, which highlighted a tremendous defensive performance for the senior.
Nebraska shot 49.1 percent in the game and knocked down nine 3-pointers. The Huskers were also solid at the free throw line, going 15-of-18 at the charity stripe. The Huskers turned the ball over only four times and outscored the Buckeyes 30-24 in the paint. Ohio State was limited to 39 percent shooting, but the Buckeyes stayed in the game thanks to 14 offensive rebounds which led to 17 second-chance points.
E.J. Liddell led Ohio State (18-9, 11-7) with 27 points, while freshman Malaki Branham added 16 points.
The teams traded baskets early before an 8-2 run put Nebraska on top 12-8 six minutes into the game. Ohio State responded by scoring the next seven points to grab a three-point lead. The Huskers tied the game at 17 on a Kobe Webster 3-pointer, but the Buckeyes answered with a trio of 3-pointers over the next two minutes to take a 26-19 lead and force a Husker timeout with 9:28 left in the half.
Wilcher then got hot, scoring eight straight Husker points over the next two-and-a-half minutes. Wilcher hit a pair of 3-pointers to pull the Huskers within three at 28-25. Three different Huskers then scored during an 8-0 run that gave Nebraska a 33-30 lead when Ohio State called a timeout at the 4:34 mark.
Three minutes later, Bryce McGowens scored five straight points in 51 seconds to give Nebraska its biggest lead at 43-36 with less than a minute in the half. The Husker defense limited the Buckeyes to just one field goal over the final nine minutes of the half, although Ohio State did go 8-of-9 from the free-throw line during that stretch. That lone basket was a second-chance 3-pointer from Branham just 10 seconds before the first-half buzzer, trimming the Husker lead to 43-39 at the break.
Nebraska was 15-of-27 (55.6) from the field in the first half, the fifth consecutive half where the Huskers made more than half of their shots. The Huskers were 6-of-12 from the 3-point line and had 10 assists on 15 baskets. Wilcher knocked down three 3-pointers en route to 13 first-half points, while Bryce McGowen added 12 points and Verge dished out nine first-half assists, one shy of the school record for assists in a half.
The Huskers held Ohio State to 41 percent shooting in the first half, but the Buckeyes hit five 3-pointers and had 10 offensive rebounds leading to 11 second-chance points.
Ohio State opened the second half with a pair of free throws, but Nebraska scored the next six points to build a 49-41 lead. The final two points of the six-point spurt were a Trey McGowens’ layup, starting a streak of 17 straight Husker points scored by the McGowens brothers over the next nine minutes.
Five straight points from Bryce McGowens gave the Huskers their first double-digit lead at 53-43 five minutes into the second half. Ohio State cut the lead to six with 10 minutes to play before a Bryce McGowens’ three-point play pushed the lead back to nine at 64-55 with 9:06 remaining.
With eight minutes left, Ohio State made three free throws over two possessions, but Nebraska had an answer as Verge snapped the McGowens’ scoring spree with a step-back 3-pointer that made it 67-58 with less than seven minutes remaining. Verge went on to score nine straight points for Nebraska, answering every Ohio State basket to help the Huskers lead 73-62 with 3:33 left.
But the Buckeyes scored the next five points to cut the lead to 73-67 with less than two minutes to play. After Nebraska saw its scoreless drought extend past two minutes, Ohio State called a timeout following another offensive rebound with 58.3 seconds left. Still down by six, the Buckeyes got back to the line again and knocked down a pair of free throws to trim the lead to four. Lat Mayen then knocked down 1-of-2 free throws on Nebraska’s next possession to snap a 7-0 Buckeye scoring run.
Ohio State missed a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left and Bryce McGowens pulled down the rebound and was fouled. The freshman went to the line on a 1-and-1 and knocked down both free throws to push the lead to seven. The Buckeyes went back to the line 10 seconds later but could only make 1-of-2. The second free throw was missed and rebounded by Derrick Walker Jr., who got the ball to Webster, who was fouled. Webster then knocked down both free throws to push the lead to 78-70, which proved to be the final margin.
The Huskers outscored the Buckeyes by four in the second half, despite shooting 42.9 percent from the field. Nebraska’s defense held Ohio State to 36.0 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes, helping the Huskers overcome 11 second-chance points from the Buckeyes.
Nebraska continues it road trip on Sunday, when the Huskers close out the regular season with a matchup against No. 10 Wisconsin.