Ohio State entered its game against Nebraska Monday night riding the worst losing streak the program had suffered in four seasons. The Buckeyes players arrived in Lincoln having lost three consecutive contests for the first time in their basketball careers.
"I don't think any of us had ever lost three games in a row at any level," senior guard Aaron Craft said Sunday.
Ohio State's players can now say they've lost four games in a row. The No. 17 ranked Buckeyes fell to Nebraska, 68-62, Monday night. The program has now lost four consecutive games for the first time since 2008.
Ohio State (15-4, 2-4) turned the ball over 13 times and were outscored 38-26 in the paint. Ohio State rallied from a double-digit deficit in the first half to tie the game just minutes into the second half, but the rally was short lived. In the game's waning moments, the Buckeyes offense went stagnant, and Nebraska won the game at the free throw line.
Just 16 days ago, Ohio State beat Nebraska by 31 points in Columbus. The Buckeyes haven't won since that game.
Several Buckeyes talked about holding each other accountable starting with the game against the Huskers. Mistakes had been made much too often in previous losses, the players said. But during the first half, Ohio State looked similar to the team that had been on display against Minnesota, Michigan State, and Iowa.
Nebraska dominated most of the first 20 minutes. The teams traded buckets during the early stretches, but a 13-0 run in the half's closing minutes gave the Huskers some separation.
The Buckeyes shot 32 percent from the field in the first half, compared to a 56 percent outing from the Huskers. Craft and junior forward Sam Thompson were the only Ohio State players to make multiple field goals. Each team turned the ball over seven times, but it was Nebraska that took advantage of its opportunities, scoring 15 points off Ohio State's mistakes.
Neither the offense nor the defense looked improved. Many of Nebraska's baskets came on easy drives to the basket and off offensive rebounds, while the offense was stagnant. Ohio State was outscored in the paint 26-6 in the first half.
With about less than two minutes to play in the first half, Thad Matta went to his small lineup, placing Thompson on the floor with Craft, junior guard Shannon Scott, senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. and junior forward LaQuinton Ross. That unit ended the first half with five unanswered points. Matta chose to begin the second half with that same group of players on the floor.
Led by pressure defense and an aggressive, penetrating offense, the Buckeyes opened the second half on a 13-2 run to take the lead.
Play evened out, with Nebraska struggling to score and Ohio State unable to consistently attack the Huskers' defense.
With about two minutes left, Nebraska led by two points. Scott pressured Nebraska guard Tai Webster on the perimeter, but fouled him. With the Huskers in the bonus, Webster hit two free throws. On the next possession, Craft drove the lane, but Terran Petteway drew a charge, and proceeded to hit both of his free throws on the other end.
From there, Nebraska continued to win the game at the free throw line. Several desperation 3-point attempts clanked off the backboard. The Huskers made 12 free throws in the final 1:15.
Ohio State next faces Illinois Thursday night in Columbus.