COLUMBUS, Ohio — It had been a rough few days for Ohio State senior guard CJ Walker. Privately battling a thumb injury, Walker was one of several Buckeyes to make one too many mistakes in what would be a one-point loss at Northwestern the last time out.
Nebraska provided some balm for that. And two possessions into the second half, Walker felt confident enough to slip a behind-the-back pass to sophomore forward E.J. Liddell as he cut toward the basket. Liddell took the pass in stride, threw down a two-handed slam and the Ohio State bench erupted.
It was the second of six straight possessions with a field goal to open the second half for the Buckeyes, who had little trouble with Big Ten cellar-dweller Nebraska in a 90-54 win inside empty Value City Arena.
The Buckeyes (8-2, 2-2 Big Ten) traded baskets early but blew it open near the midpoint of the first half against the Cornhuskers (4-6, 0-3), who have lost 19 straight Big Ten games and five straight by double figures.
The 36-point margin of victory is Ohio State’s biggest Big Ten win since it won 104-62 at Northwestern on Jan. 10, 1991.
Junior forward Justin Ahrens led five Buckeyes in double figures with 18 points. Freshman Zed Key had 14 points, Duane Washington Jr. had 13, Justice Sueing had 12 and Seth Towns added 11 to lead a balanced scoring attack against an overmatched Nebraska team.
Nebraska junior guard Teddy Allen connected on a 3-pointer from the right wing in front of the Ohio State bench as one of the Buckeyes called out, “Short!” Allen heard the comment, turned his head toward the bench area and glared as he headed back upcourt with the game tied at 13 and 13:15 left to play in the half.
The Buckeyes would not allow another field goal for more than 10 minutes. Zed Key gave them the lead with a right-handed hook shot from the left block, starting what would be a 15-0 run during a six-minute stretch. Liddell, Ahrens and Towns all hit 3-pointers to key the run after the Buckeyes had missed their first six shots from deep, and when junior Nebraska guard Shamiel Stevenson hit the second of two free throws with 7:08 to play it ended the drought for the Cornhuskers.
It was still a 28-14 lead for the Buckeyes, though, who had even air-balled three shots while doubling up the visitors. Nebraska’s next five points came from the line, and it would not make a field goal until the Buckeyes were down a man defensively.
While battling for a Dalano Banton missed 3-pointer, Nebraska’s Trey McGowens knocked Ohio State’s Duane Washington Jr. in the face, sending him out of the play in the process. As Washington crouched along the baseline, the ball found its way back to a wide-open McGowens, who hit a 3-pointer with 3:01 left in the half.
Washington would leave the game, but he returned for the second half. By then, Ohio State held a 38-21 lead after eight players had scored between 2-8 points during the first half. Sueing and Key each led the way with eight points apiece.
The Buckeyes were without junior guard/forward Musa Jallow due to COVID-19 contact tracing, a development announced by coach Chris Holtmann on Tuesday, but they were also without sophomore center Ibrahima Diallo. The 6-10 Diallo suffered a knee injury during Tuesday’s practice, Holtmann said during his pregame radio show, and suffered an injury that’s not season-ending but will keep him out for some time.
Diallo watched the game in street clothes with a pair of crutches from the bench area.
The Buckeyes have now won five straight games against the Cornhuskers.