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LINCOLN, Neb. – Ohio State felt right at home in this road game. William Bufford scored 15 points, Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas had 14 apiece, and the sixth-ranked Buckeyes blew out Nebraska for the second time this month with a 79-45 victory Saturday night.
The Buckeyes (17-3, 5-3) swept their games against Nebraska by a combined 65 points and moved into a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten with Michigan and Michigan State.
They came to Lincoln with a 2-3 road record, including 1-2 against Big Ten opponents. They weren’t overly sharp, but still were good enough to beat the Huskers (10-9, 2-6) worse than they did in Columbus on Jan. 3, when they won 71-40.
“I see this team growing inch by inch, week by week,” coach Thad Matta said. “We’ve got to continue to hammer ’em. We had three great practices leading into this game. They were talking on the bench about what can happen if we keep practicing like that. Hopefully, we can continue that.”
Brandon Ubel and Bo Spencer had eight points apiece for Nebraska, which had two field-goal droughts of longer than eight minutes.The Huskers, who upset Indiana (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) 70-69 on Wednesday, were looking for consecutive wins over ranked opponents for the first time since February 2008.
They never had a chance, committing a season-high 27 turnovers and shooting a season-low 29.5 percent from the floor.
“I don’t think we could have played any worse,” Ubel said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team that’s turned it over 27 times. You play that bad, with that many turnovers against a team like Ohio State, they’re going to make you pay, and that’s what happened.”The Buckeyes took their first double-digit lead 10 minutes into the game, going on a 13-0 run after the first media timeout to erase an 8-5 deficit.
“Being down that first timeout, we challenged our guys,” Matta said. “I thought Nebraska was playing harder than us. They were quicker to the play. Defensively, down the stretch of the first half, we did a good job limiting open looks and getting our hands on balls. We played tonight, and that was something we needed to do.”
Nebraska scored only 12 points on 4-of-20 shooting the last 15½ minutes of the half.”We started off well and then we got down six or eight,” Ubel said. “I think we might have started to panic a little bit.”
Fans started leaving the Devaney Sports Center with 12 minutes to play, when Ohio State led 56-28.
“When we’re connected and have five guys together, we have a pretty good half-court defense,” Matta said. “But we’ve got a tendency to lay low sometimes and give up easy baskets. Those are the things that can really bring you down.”
Sullinger, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds in the first game against Nebraska, took only three shots and was held to four points in the first half. Ubel and Jorge Brian Diaz took turns guarding him, and Spencer doubled him whenever he touched the ball in the post.Sullinger shook loose in the second half, scoring 10 points and even making a 3-pointer.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored only two points after recording a career-high 28 in last Sunday’s win over Indiana.
Ohio State shot just 45 percent and was outrebounded 40-34 in the 400th game coached by Matta at three schools.
The Buckeyes have won by 10 points or more in 15 of their 17 victories and increased their nation-leading average victory margin to 21.95 points.
“I did not see this at all,” Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. “We just have to get back to going the way we were going. Does it hurt? Yeah it hurts. There is not anything that we did from coaching to anything that gave us a chance to win tonight.”