Coming off its best win in nearly two months, Ohio State knows it can’t relax.
The Buckeyes secured a 10-point win over Michigan Tuesday, their first victory over a team with a winning conference record. While Nebraska, Ohio State’s Saturday night opponent, has struggled at times this season the Buckeyes can’t afford any setbacks heading into a difficult home stretch.
“As I told those guys the other night every time this team feels good, we crash and shoot ourselves in the foot,” head coach Thad Matta said. “I say that from the standpoint of I really like the mindset this week that our guys have had through film and practice. I hope, at this point of the season, because this is the fun time of college basketball and you just hope that they keep that in the back of their minds every time we take the floor to play a game.”
A loss to the Cornhuskers (14-13, 6-8 Big Ten) would certainly constitute a self-inflicted injury. Nebraska, like Ohio State, has just one win over a team with a winning league record and that Jan. 20 victory over Michigan State likely feels like eons ago for Tim Miles’ team.
Still, the Buckeyes (17-10, 9-5) can’t afford to take anyone for granted, especially not on the road where they boast just a 3-5 record in true road games this season. While the Cornhuskers have struggled on the court, Pinnacle Bank Arena has been consistently full this season. Nebraska averages 15,406 fans per home game, the fourth-best mark in the Big Ten.
“I think they’ve got good pieces around the puzzle; the young guys are kind of fitting into their own,” Matta said of Nebraska. “They’ve had some great, great wins this year and you guys know going to Nebraska there’s going to be 16,000 people there tomorrow going crazy and it’s a great college environment.”
It’s still unknown whether the Cornhuskers will have Shavon Shields available. The senior has not played since being stretchers off the court Feb. 6 in a game against Rutgers. The forward went up for a block and landed on his head/neck area and entered concussion protocol after the event. Matta said the Buckeyes are preparing as if Shields will play.
Aside from Shields, the Cornhuskers are lead by junior Andrew White III. The 6-7 guard is averaging 17.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game while making nearly three threes per contest. He’s upped his average to 20 points per game in three contests without Shields.
Defensively, Nebraska is primarily a man-to-man team that is willing to gamble for steals, swiping a conference high 7.3 per game.
Center Trevor Thompson said the Buckeyes will be prepared for whatever the Cornhuskers throw at them, knowing how important it is to get a win and Ohio State’s first four-game conference winning streak this season.
“I think it’s more of a sense of urgency,” he said. “I feel like we know what we have to do and we know what it’s going to take and what’s necessary to further along our season and stuff like that so I just feel like everybody is really buying in and really hungry for these games coming up.
“It’s the next game so it’s the most important game. We’re not thinking about past games, our main focus is on this game. We know we have to come out there and execute because they have a good crowd, they play good at home so we know that we can’t take this game lightly, we just have to come out and be prepared and be ready for a fight.”