Nebraska came into Wednesday night's Big Ten Conference opener against No. 8 Ohio State with a nothing-to-lose mentality, but it probably really didn't matter how the Huskers viewed the game going in.
The Buckeyes jumped all over the Huskers from the opening minutes, and a late run in the first half carried over on into the second and put the game well out of reach shortly after halftime, as OSU eventually walked away with a 70-44 victory in Columbus, Ohio.
Head coach Tim Miles said earlier in the week that he knew his team would have the deck heavily stacked against it in his first ever Big Ten game, so it wasn't the fact that NU lost that had him so disappointed afterward. It was that the Huskers, in his opinion, were out-hustled in a game in which they couldn't afford to give less than 100 percent effort.
"It was obviously a disappointing loss, and I was disappointed because I just didn't think - let's just say you play offense, you play defense and then you have the hustle game; I don't think we won any of them," Miles said during his post-game radio show on the Husker Sports Network. "That's what makes me mad, because by God, we need to win the hustle game. We weren't trying hard enough, playing physical enough to come up with the ball, dive on the floor for loose balls. We attempted to take like two charges, and that should be seven or eight. That's just really disappointing to me… We need those guys on the attack, not stepping back."
Senior guard Dylan Talley got things going early with a 3-pointer to give the Huskers (9-5 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) a 3-2 lead, but that would be about all NU had to cheer about in the first half.
Ohio State (11-2, 1-0) quickly jumped out to an 11-3 lead with a 9-0 run, as Nebraska started the game just 1-of-8 shooting from the field and was unable to establish any sort of offensive tempo or consistency all night.
The Buckeyes ended up closing out the half on a 16-2 run, including scoring the final nine points capped off with an inbound pass alley-oop to forward Evan Ravenel at the final second before halftime.
"Now you're looking up and you're down 20, and you're like, 'Holy cow. How did we get here?'" Miles said. "And it doesn't take much to get there, especially against an elite team."
As if the 36-17 halftime lead wasn't bad enough, Deshaun Thomas actually out-scored the Huskers by himself, 18-17, after shooting 8-of-12 from the field. He ended up finishing with a game-high 22 points.
The Huskers shot just 26 percent in the first half compared to 46 percent by Ohio State and were out-rebounded by the Buckeyes 26-14, including seven offensive rebounds by OSU. To make matters even worse, senior center Andre Almeida left the game midway through the half and did not return after suffering an injury.
Ohio State picked up right where it left off to start the second half, as it kicked things off with a 10-2 run after halftime to increase the lead to 27. A pair of 3-pointers by senior guard Ray Gallegos gave Nebraska a little bit of life, but it wouldn't be long before the Buckeyes took their biggest lead of the night at 31 with just under nine minutes left.
When all was said and done, OSU shot 49 percent from the field to a season-low 30.4 percent by the Huskers, out-rebounded NU 43-32, forced 14 turnovers and held a 40-16 edge in points in the paint.
"I can handle a losing outcome," Miles said. "That doesn't make us a losing program or losers. But it's the way you go about your business, and I was disappointed that we got out-hustled. We can't accept that. That is unacceptable on our end."
Gallegos was the only Husker to score in double figures in the loss, as he finished with 14 points on just 4-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc. Talley followed up with nine points, while freshman Shevon Shields added four points and a game-high nine rebounds.
Guard Lenzelle Smith was the only other Buckeye to reach double digits in points with 17 on 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. Point guard Aaron Craft didn't score, but still had a huge presence with eight assists, six rebounds and three steals.
The Huskers will try and rebound when they take on Wisconsin for their Big Ten home opener on Sunday. During his post-game interview, Miles told a story of how Ohio State head coach Thad Matta talked to him before the game and warned him about how difficult things could get in the Big Ten Conference.
If things continue any way like what happened on Wednesday night, this season could get a whole lot more disappointing for the Huskers. But Miles remains optimistic his team can turn it around.
"He said, 'This is an 18-game grind,'" Miles said. "I said 'I know. We're preparing for you guys and one guy is watching Wisconsin and another guy is watching Michigan. I said, we're not even through Ohio State yet.' He said, 'Oh man, by the end of the year it's just brutal.' And that's a guy who's got one of the top-10 teams in the country.
"I just think that if we go out there and we play good ball (against Wisconsin), we can do it. Hopefully we can get a home crowd to cheer these guys on and bring up their spirits up a little bit and maybe intimidate Wisconsin a little bit too and maybe work some of that Husker magic."
Around the rim
***Miles said Almeida suffered "a significant sprain" but was unsure whether it was to his right ankle or foot.
"On a big guy like that it's going to take a bit of time," Miles said. "That's a tender one."
***Freshman center Sergej Vucetic saw his most significant action as a Husker in the loss, making both of his shots for the first four points of his career in the final two minutes of the game. With Almeida's status in doubt, Miles said Vucetic might see an expanded role moving forward.
"We got Sergej in tonight," Miles said. "I think we need to give him a few more minutes. Sergej's just so thin physically… but we just have to look long and hard at getting him a few more minutes and putting that scholarship to use."
***Point guard Mike Peltz did not play due to tendonitis in his knee.
***The win marked Ohio State's 61st straight home victory over an unranked team.