LINCOLN, Neb. — It was the kind of shot that isn’t supposed to go in. And when it did, one of the most passionate home crowds in the Big Ten started to prematurely head for the exits Saturday afternoon at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
With the Ohio State lead briefly trimmed to seven points, Luther Muhammad attempted a three-pointer from straight-on with the shot clock winding down. The freshman guard had knocked down two straight, but this one looked set to knock the rim clean from the basket. The ball hit the back of the rim, the front of the rim, the backboard and then dropped through the net as the shot-clock buzzer sounded and the fans groaned.
For all those reasons, the shot was the exclamation point on a career-high 24-point effort from Muhammad that powered a 70-60 win.
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“To be honest, every time I let it go I feel like it’s good, but that one, that was a heat check,” he said afterward, unable to contain his laughter. “That was a straight heat check.”
Losers of five straight, the Buckeyes led by five at halftime but struggled to open the second half as the Cornhuskers eked out a 38-36 lead in the first five minutes. Then Ohio State pulled away, hitting four straight three-pointers at one point to push the lead to 13 with 7:56 to play.
Muhammad, who went 7 of 12 from the field and 3 of 4 beyond the arc, hit the final two three-pointers in that stretch. Then his third one answered a personal 6-0 run for Nebraska’s Glynn Watson Jr., pushing it back to a 59-49 lead with 4:44 to play. The Cornhuskers would get no closer than a two-possession game the rest of the way.
As he watched that shot bounce around and fall through, Muhammad said he was thinking one thing.
“I just feel like, ‘Today’s my day. God is on my side today,’ ” he said.
Muhammad had been averaging 8.3 points per Big Ten game, and much of his impact this season has been on the defensive end. Against Nebraska, Muhammad played a game-high 34:55, tied a career high with six rebounds, set a career high with three steals and was plus-13. A 67.5 percent free throw shooter on the season, he made 7 of 8 on Saturday.
“A heat check is typically another way of saying a bad shot, but that one was great,” Holtmann said. “Listen, we need guys in those moments to step up with courage and make plays. That was critical.”