LINCOLN, Neb. — Ohio State was pulling away and the home crowd was groaning. Ahead by 10 points with roughly two minutes to play, the Buckeyes were looking to extend their offensive possession when the ball started rolling toward their bench and out of bounds.
The closest Nebraska player, junior forward Isaiah Roby, stared down between his feet to watch the ball roll. But Ohio State senior guard C.J. Jackson, with the weight of a five-game losing streak propelling him to the hardwood, extended every inch of his 6-foot-1 frame to get one final touch on the ball.
It still made its way out of bounds, and Nebraska was awarded possession. But it was indicative of multiple hustle plays that, combined with clutch shooting, better ball control and team defense, pushed the Buckeyes to a 70-60 victory against Nebraska at sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena.
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>> Read more: Ohio State men's basketball notebook | Weight lifted with road win at Nebraska
“Loose balls, that’s what we have to do,” Jackson said with a smile. “We have to win every 50-50 ball.”
On Saturday, the Buckeyes (13-6, 3-5 Big Ten) certainly won more of them than the Cornhuskers (13-7, 3-6), who have lost three straight and five of their last seven. Like in each game during their five-game losing streak, the Buckeyes were in position to take control during the second half.
This time they did with a 20-5 run during the middle of the second half that built a 56-43 lead with 7:56 left and sent some of the Nebraska faithful from their seats and prematurely into the cold outside. Freshman guard Luther Muhammad made three straight three-pointers during the stretch on the way to a career-high 24 points.
A nod to his physical nature: He also had a smattering of blood staining the white “A” in “State” emblazoned across his chest that he wasn’t aware of.
“Somebody I fouled,” he said when asked whose blood it was.
The postgame celebration was appropriate for an important Big Ten win: plenty of smiles and high-fives with a recognition that the season is far from over.
“They were happy and really excited, but I think they also realized we’re in the middle of our season right here,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “The five-game losing streak doesn’t define us; this win doesn’t define us. We’ve got to find ways to keep getting better.”
The Buckeyes showed some things they have been working on in practice, occasionally throwing some zone defense and some full-court pressure at the Cornhuskers.
After turning the ball over seven times in the first 13 minutes, they committed only six the rest of the way. The Buckeyes outrebounded the Cornhuskers 45-31, posted a 14-2 advantage in second-chance points and made more free throws (13) than their opponent attempted (12).
Ohio State led for 24:10 and did not trail for the final 15:14.
“I thought they played with a lot of guts down the stretch,” Holtmann said. “Players win games, and the plays they made down the stretch won.”