Ohio State used a balanced, fast-paced offense and suffocating defense to down Nebraska 82-68 Thursday night in Columbus.
The Buckeyes (18-1, 5-1) had four double-figure scorers, blocked 12 shots and had eight steals as they handed the 20th-ranked Cornhuskers their first Big Ten road loss.
After a close opening 20 minutes, the hosts broke it open in the second half with a 6-0 run that doubled what had been a six-point halftime lead.
Ohio State guard Amber Stokes started the spurt with a layup and Tayler Hill followed with a pair of breakaway baskets to give 10th-ranked Ohio State a 51-39 advantage with 13:38 left in the game.
Nebraska battled back within eight over the next three minutes, but Ohio State responded with a 9-2 burst that put the game back out of reach.
Hill drove to the basket and drew a foul after the Cornhuskers drew within eight at the 10:30 mark. She made only one of the ensuing free throws, but center Ashley Adams stretched the lead back to 12 with an old-fashioned three-point play that made it 61-49 near the nine-minute mark.
After Emily Cady scored a Nebraska layup, reserve forward Martina Ellerbe flashed past Cornhusker Lindsey Moore for another layup and a foul. Ellerbe added the free throw for another three-point play, and Ohio State’s lead was 13 with 7:58 remaining in the contest.
Stokes closed the run with a fast-break layup on a long pass from Hill, who grabbed it after Adams swatted a shot by Meghin Williams.
Nebraska (15-3, 4-2) would get no closer than 10 the rest of the night, although head coach Connie Yori extended the game an extra few minutes by instructing her team to foul late in the game.
Ohio State made 8 of 12 free throws in the final 2:33 and ended up 15 for 22 overall from the charity stripe.
As usual, Hill and Prahalis led the way for the Buckeyes. Hill had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six steals while Prahlais added 19 points and nine assists.
Stokes also contributed 12 points to continue adding a third backcourt scoring option and Adams scored 13 from a variety of spots in and around the lane. The 6-6 Adams was 6 of 8 from the field and blocked five shots while grabbing 11 rebounds.
“When the guards attract double coverage if the post players run to the rim, good things are probably going to happen,” Ohio State head coach Jim Foster said. “And Stokes is starting to find holes.”
Yori was impressed with Adams and Stokes, two players it sounded like the Huskers were prepared to leave open.
“I thought Adams played a really good game,” Yori said. “She hit shots, and that was big. The way we guarded them, she had opportunities.
“Stokes gave them a huge lift when we weren’t out guarding her. She got by us. We didn’t do a very good job of staying in front of her, but she’s a really quick kid and she made plays.”
Cady scored a career-high 24 points to lead all scorers while fellow forward Hooper had 19 and point guard Moore added 13.
They struggled to contain the smaller but quicker Buckeyes, who enjoyed a 20-2 advantage in transition points.
“There were 20 points in the game where we didn’t guard them because they either stole it from us or leaked out and got an easy basket,” Yori said.
The opportunity to make plays in the open floor did not surprise Ohio State, who expected the Cornhuskers to want to play at a fast pace.
“We knew they wanted to get up and down a little bit, pressure the ball,” Prahalis said. “That’s what they did. We kind of like that kind of game. I think once we started rebounding a little bit more and locking up on defense a little bit more we started to click.”
Ohio State held Nebraska to 33.8 percent shooting (25 for 74) and forced 15 turnovers. The Buckeyes lost the battle of the boards 43-39. That included a 20-10 deficit in offensive rebounds, but the Huskers only managed a 15-14 advantage in second-chance points.
“Overall I thought our defense was pretty good,” said Stokes, the Buckeyes’ primary defender of the point guard. “We got steals, we were rebounding. Especially in the second half I think we came together. We were talking to each other. Playing solid at the end helped us a lot as far as keeping them from coming back.”