CHICAGO - Tim Miles admitted following Nebraska's surprising upset of Purdue in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament that his team was relying mostly on heart and emotion at this point in the year after a long and physically grueling season.
When the No. 10-seeded Huskers ran into No. 2 Ohio State in Friday's second-round match-up, it was obvious they had finally run out of gas.
After giving Ohio State all it could handle in the first half, the Buckeyes opened the second half on a dominating 26-5 run and all but took the air completely out of the Huskers' sails.
"A little bit towards the end, but that's no excuse," junior Ray Gallegos said when asked if fatigue played a factor in the second half. "They're a team that pressures you, and when you don't come out of the game and play all these minutes, it has an effect on you eventually. At the end of the game, we just didn't have enough gas, I guess."
The energy and emotion from the win over Purdue looked to have carried over to start Friday night's game, as the Huskers came out firing on all cylinders for the first seven minutes. A dunk by senior forward Brandon Ubel, a 3-pointer by Gallegos and a jumper by freshman wing Shavon Shields helped NU jump out to a quick 15-6 lead, leaving the mixed-allegiance crowd at the United Center a bit stunned.
The hot start eventually wore off, though, as the Buckeyes finally got going and came back with an 11-0 run that was aided by five turnovers in a span of eight possessions. The Huskers ended up going nearly six minutes without scoring before Shields finally got them back on the board with a steal and lay-up to tie it up at 17-17 with 7:25 to go in the half.
Nebraska had the ball down two in the final minute of the half, but sophomore guard Jordan Tyrance - who was in the game because Shields (two fouls) and sophomore forward David Rivers (three) were on the bench with foul trouble - passed up on an open lay-up and was hit with a traveling violation.
On Ohio State's next possession, Tyrance then fouled Deshaun Thomas on a 3-pointer with 12.9 remaining, and Thomas hit all three attempts to give the Buckeyes a 28-23 lead going into halftime.
"We put a young guy (Tyrance) in there and he went down and traveled on one end and I think he was trying to make up for it on the other end," Miles said. "You've just got to let that play go. You've got to have amnesia sometimes. That was a critical play. It hurt us."
The sour end to the half carried right over into the second, as the Buckeyes came storming out with an 11-0 run before Nebraska scored its first points of the half five minutes in.
Things only got worse from there. A thundering dunk by Thomas capped off a 26-5 OSU run that put the Buckeyes up 54-28 with 12 minutes to play. While the Huskers continued to scrap and got it back to as close as 14 points with just over five minutes left, the game was pretty much over after halftime.
"I thought the Ohio State factor was a bigger factor than anything," Miles said. "Those guys are really quick. They can put a lot of pressure on you and make it difficult to play. I think that was the deal."
When all was said and done, Nebraska committed 12 turnovers that resulted in 21 Ohio State points. The Huskers also shot just 38 percent from the field in the second half, including going just 1-of-10 from 3-point range.
"We had turnovers, and they were getting lay-ups and wide-open shots," Shields said. "Once they get on a roll, they're a talented team and they're tough to stop. If we would've eliminated turnovers - I think we played them well in the half court, but once they got in transition, that kind of killed us."
Ubel had 16 points and seven rebounds in what could be his final game as a Husker, while Shields finished with 14 points and five boards. Thomas and Sam Thompson both led Ohio State with 19 points, as eight different Buckeyes scored in the game.
It was certainly a disappointing ending to the season for Nebraska, but considering the predictions many had for the Huskers coming into the year, the year can undoubtedly be considered a success.
"That was the goal this season, was to exceed other people's expectations," Ubel said. "Obviously we expected more out of ourselves. We believed in ourselves in the locker room, but we wanted to prove everybody else wrong. We did that I guess to a degree, but we definitely had higher aspirations than what we came out with."