Ohio State fought off a sluggish start in its 2013 Big Ten tournament debut, and used a 26-5 run to open the second half and eventually run away with a 71-50 victory Friday evening over Nebraska at the United Center in Chicago.
The second-seeded Buckeyes (24-7) fell into an early 9-4 hole, but climbed out to grab a 28-23 lead by the end of the first half. The beginning of the second 20 minutes was practically all Ohio State, however, as it tallied all of the first 11 and 26 of the first 31 points of the second half.
Junior swingman Deshaun Thomas and sophomore forward Sam Thompson each scored a game-high 19 points to lead the Buckeyes. Thomas added a game-high nine rebounds while Thompson eclipsed his career-best scoring output of 18 achieved last season against UNC Asheville on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor vs. Nebraska.
Ohio State shot a torrid 59.1 percent (26 for 44) as a team, including 52.9 percent (9 for 17) from three-point territory. That was in sharp contest to the 10th-seeded Cornhuskers, who made only 41.2 percent (21 for 51) from the field and just 15.8 percent (3 for 19) from deep.
Senior forward Brandon Ubel led Nebraska with 16 points and seven rebounds while freshman guard Shavon Shields added 14 points.
Ohio State drew first blood in the game when Thompson drained a three just 12 seconds in, but the Cornhuskers (15-18) quickly grabbed momentum by scoring nine of the next 10 points.
After Ubel flushed a two-handed dunk at the 16:43 mark to give Nebraska a 9-4 lead, a red-faced OSU head coach Thad Matta called a timeout and blistered his team for its lackluster start.
Thomas seemed to be the main victim of Matta’s brief tirade as OSU’s leading scorer took a seat on the bench and stayed there for the next several minutes.
Meanwhile, Nebraska continued to pad its lead. Thompson hit a bucket immediately after the timeout, but the Cornhuskers rattled off the next six points to take a 15-6 lead with 13:03 remaining in the contest.
Ohio State finally snapped out of its early-game snooze when sophomore guard Shannon Scott hit a bucket and then combined with junior point guard Aaron Craft for back-to-back treys to touch off a 12-0 run for the Buckeyes pushed OSU back into the lead at 18-15 with 8:36 remaining in the first half.
Scott and Craft each scored seven points and combined for 12 assists and four steals.
OSU’s first-half lead reached as much as five on three separate occasions, the final time with 12.9 seconds remaining in the half when Thomas was fouled deep and connected on all three free throws to set the halftime score at 28-23.
Thompson opened the second half by getting behind Nebraska’s zone defense from a running dunk, and that was followed by baskets from Thomas and Craft to push Ohio State’s lead in double figures for the first time at 34-23.
Huskers head coach Tim Miles called a timeout at the 17:17 mark to try and settle things, but the Buckeyes responded with another dunk from Thompson, this one the alley-oop variety off a nice above-the-rim pass from junior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Thompson followed that with another trey to cap the opening 11-0 salvo and give OSU a 39-23 cushion with 16:06 to play.
The Cornhuskers finally broke through with their first points of the second half when Shields converted an old-fashioned three-point play, but the Buckeyes responded to that with a 17-4 run over the next six-plus minutes to blow things open.
Sophomore LaQuinton Ross tallied all of his 11 points during the run, including three triples in a row at one point. When he finished the run with a streaking layup – which could have been another thunder jam had Ross wanted – Ohio State was cruising with a 56-30 advantage with 9:47 remaining.
To their credit, the Cornhuskers tried to fight their way back and strung together a 15-3 run of their own over the next four minutes. But after climbing back within 15 at 59-45 with 5:31 left, Nebraska could draw no closer as the Buckeyes closed things out on a 12-5 run.
Ohio State, which advanced to the Big Ten tournament semifinals for the seventh time in eight years, was to play the winner of the Michigan State-Iowa contest which tipped at 9 p.m. Eastern.