INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — After watching his team turn the ball over nine times and fall behind by three points at halftime, Ohio State coach Thad Matta had some choice words for the No. 24 Buckeyes.
“I told our guys at halftime, I said, ‘Look, with the nine turnovers we had, why don’t we just go out and give them the ball nine times and let them try to score,” Matta said. “And they took me literally, so we were down 18 points.”
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes (25-8) found themselves in a deep hole, but rallied to beat fourth-seeded Nebraska 71-67 on Friday in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
Ohio State led for almost the entire first half, but the Cornhuskers (19-12) stuck around. Playing after a first-round bye for the first time since joining the Big Ten in 2012, Nebraska finally took its first lead on Shavon Shields’ layup with 48 seconds to play in the first half.
That put Nebraska in front 29-28 and, after a missed 3-pointer by LaQuinton Ross, Ray Gallegos hit a jumper at the other end to send Nebraska into halftime with a 31-28 lead.
Nebraska scored the first five points of the second half to build a 36-28 lead, prompting an Ohio State timeout.
The Buckeyes’ struggles at the free-throw line in the first 2 minutes of the second half didn’t help their cause. Amir Williams and Sam Thompson were both 0 for 2 in that stretch.
“We opened up the second half and we had three fouls in two minutes and ten seconds, and we missed four straight free throws,” Matta said. “You know, Aaron (Craft) missed a layup, Trey (McDonald) missed an attempt to dunk, and it was like, my gosh.”
Ross hit a jumper to make it 36-30, but a 12-0 Nebraska run gave the Cornhuskers an 18-point lead with 13:45 to play.
Ross was called for a technical foul for shoving during that run.
“He said he got hit in the face on the drive. We’re working with him on that,” Matta said.
That’s when the Buckeyes kicked it in.
“I think we played with more energy when we saw we were down 18, and we started picking up our full court (pressure),” Amedeo Della Valle said.
Ross and Della Valle scored the game’s next nine points to cut Nebraska’s lead in half, to 48-39.
After turning the ball over just three times in the first half, Nebraska had eight turnovers in the second half.
“They were turning us over, speeding us up, getting us out of operating areas,” Shields said. “We weren’t executing on offense, weren’t making plays on defense, giving up offensive boards. We just kind of fell apart, which is really embarrassing on our part and unacceptable.”
“Unfortunately, I thought we beat ourselves,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “You have to credit Ohio State with their pressure late. In the last 13 minutes they really did an excellent job of getting us rattled.”
Both teams reached the double bonus with 9:36 to play and the score 54-44 Nebraska. Ohio State closed to 58-56 on a Thompson dunk with 4:42 to play.
Pitchford hit a 3-pointer to put Nebraska ahead 61-56. But after two free throws by Aaron Craft and two free throws by Shields, Della Valle hit a 3-pointer with 2:47 to play to pull Ohio State back within 63-61. Petteway fouled Ross on a dunk attempt, and Ross hit both free throws to tie the game at 63 with 1:52 to play.
Nebraska couldn’t get a good look at the other end, then Petteway fouled out while defending Ross. His two free throws put Ohio State ahead 65-63.
Ross finished with career-highs in points (26) and rebounds (13) to lead Ohio State into a semifinal matchup Saturday with top-seeded and eighth-ranked Michigan. The Wolverines defeated No. 9 seed Illinois 64-63 in Friday’s first quarterfinal. Della Valle added 12 points for the Buckeyes.
Petteway led Nebraska with 20 points. Pitchford scored 15 and Shields added 12 points as the Cornhuskers fell to 1-3 in the Big Ten tournament.
“At the end of the day, when you have a lead like that, you should be able to hold it, keep it and find a way to win, but unfortunately we weren’t able to,” Miles said. “Credit them, but at the end of the day, I’m going to put this one on us and me and not finding a better way to attack their pressure.”