In what passes for in-game entertainment at Value City Arena, one lucky fan left Saturday’s game with a free dental kit courtesy of a sponsor.
The rest of the crowd of 13,044, and everyone inside the Ohio State locker room, would have preferred a root canal rather than the final outcome. With a chance to climb out of the bottom four of the Big Ten and send Nebraska there in their place, the Buckeyes opened up an 11-point lead early in the second half and led by five points with 32 seconds to play.
So when Jae’Sean Tate’s prayer of a jumper was off-line and the Cornhuskers began to celebrate a 58-57 win, it marked the latest blow to an Ohio State season teetering on the verge of collapse. The Cornhuskers (12-14, 6-8 Big Ten) forced the Buckeyes (15-13, 5-10) into four turnovers in the final 2:32 and scored six points in the final 25 seconds to steal the victory.
“I’m still honestly trying to process everything that I witnessed before my eyes,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I’m like you: dumbfounded.”
Trevor Thompson’s layup with 3:37 to play gave the Buckeyes a 54-47 lead, and they were still ahead 57-52 with 32 seconds remaining when it all fell apart. Nebraska called timeout and got a Jack McVeigh three from the right corner with 24.7 seconds left to pull within two and called timeout. The Buckeyes inbounded the ball to Kam Williams, the team’s best free-throw shooter at 91.2 percent, but the Cornhuskers knew they had the possession arrow and instead of fouling forced a jump ball.
Anyone who has watched this season could sense what was coming next. Nebraska’s Glynn Watson Jr., who picked up his fourth foul with 15:14 to play but played all but three seconds of the final 10:51, drove to the left block and scored while drawing a foul with 11.3 seconds left. He hit the free throw, and the Buckeyes raced upcourt to call timeout with 8.0 seconds remaining.
The call was for an inbounds pass to Jae’Sean Tate on the right wing, where he would hand off to Marc Loving, who would look for either his own shot, Williams off a pin-down action on the other side or Thompson on the block. Instead, Nebraska jumped the handoff and, after picking up his dribble, Tate was out of options and had to launch a jumper that was off-line.
“That one’s on me,” Tate said. “I’ve got to keep my dribble in that situation, get a better shot, drive going to the rim.”
Just like that, the free-falling Buckeyes have lost three straight. They’ve lost more Big Ten games than any other team in Matta’s 13 seasons at OSU and will be his first team ever to finish with a losing conference record.
Ohio State committed 18 turnovers, its highest total in Big Ten play, and struggled against a 1-3-1 zone it tore apart in a one-point win at Nebraska one month ago.
"Ultimately, I’m responsible,” Matta said. “Obviously, I’ve got to do a better job of (correcting mental errors). Weird, weird game today. Give Nebraska credit. They never went away.”