Huskers stun No. 23 Ohio State in 78-70 upset road victory
Less than 48 hours after putting together its best all-around performance of the Fred Hoiberg era in a 23-point win at Penn State, Nebraska pulled off by far its most impressive win in three years on Tuesday night.
Led by 26 points from Bryce McGowens and 13 points and 11 assists from Alonzo Verge Jr., the Huskers traveled to No. 23 Ohio State and left with a 78-70 upset victory.
Leading for the entire second half, NU shot 49.1 percent from the field and hit nine 3-pointers to earn its first win over a ranked opponent since No. 21 Maryland in the 2019 Big Ten Tournament.
It was also the Huskers’ first road win over a ranked foe since topping No. 25 Indiana in Bloomington on Jan. 14, 2019.
Nebraska carried over its hot shooting from State College to Columbus, as the Huskers shot 55.6% from the field and 50% from 3-point range in the first half to take a 43-39 lead into halftime.
After falling behind 26-19 midway through the half, C.J. Wilcher scored eight straight points off the bench to spark a 14-4 run that put the Huskers up 33-30.
Wilcher ended up scoring 13 of his 15 points with three made 3-pointers in the first half while Verge dished out nine assists, the most ever by a Husker and by any Big Ten player in a half this season.
Nebraska's 43 points tied with Duke for the most Ohio State had allowed in the first half this season. On the other end, the Buckeyes made just one field goal over the final 8:12 of the half.
Ohio State ended up going 10:36 of game time on into the second half making just one field goal, and the Huskers capitalized with a 10-2 run to push their lead to 53-43 after the break.
Nebraska kept OSU at arm’s length over the next 12 minutes, and eight consecutive points from Verge gave NU its largest advantage of the night at 73-62 with 3:33 remaining.
The Buckeyes made one last rally with a 7-0 run over the next three minutes and pulled within 73-69 with 55 seconds on the clock. But the Huskers stepped up and got stops on defense and converted 5-of-6 at the free-throw line to seal the victory.
Trey McGowens finished with seven points, six rebounds, and four steals in 32 minutes before fouling out late in the game.
Overall, Nebraska turned the ball over a season-low four times in the win, including just once in the second half, compared to 12 assists.
E.J. Liddell posted a game-high 27 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocks for Ohio State, but he was one of only two Buckeyes to score in double figures.
“The guys are excited,” NU head coach Fred Hoiberg said during his post-game show on the Husker Radio Network. “For a team like this to have a really good road win like we did the last game and still bounce back with the type of energy that we did, those are the two toughest things in this business…
“For our guys to be able to do that in a year where we haven’t had a lot of these, yeah, it shows you what they’re all about.”
1. So many guys stepped up for Nebraska
With their respective final stat lines, Bryce McGowens and Verge got the bulk of the attention, and deservingly so.
But Nebraska got crucial performances from several other players that deserved just as much acknowledgment for their efforts.
Wilcher carried the load for the Huskers offensively in the first half and helped keep NU in the game while the rest of his team struggled.
While the 6-foot-4 freshman only had two points in the second half, he played critical minutes at the five with Derrick Walker (13 minutes) and Eduardo Andre (nine) spending most of the night on the bench with foul trouble.
Wilcher also moved into second place on the NU freshman list for made 3-pointers in a season with 50, passing Ryan Anderson (48 in 2006-07) and now only trailing Joe McCray (80, 2004-05).
Trey McGowens also had solid final numbers, but his impact was felt most of all on the defensive end. In addition to his four steals, Trey held standout OSU freshman Malaki Branham to six points on 1-of-3 shooting, three fouls, and two turnovers before fouling out in the second half.
“For a team that had guys playing out of position really for most of the night due to foul trouble, I thought our guys went out and showed very good execution,” Hoiberg said. “A lot of that was off the whiteboard. We just kept going after the timeouts.”
2. Bryce locked up Big Ten Freshman of the Year
One of the more intriguing storylines going into this game was the head-to-head rematch between Nebraska’s Bryce McGowens and Ohio State’s Branham, who many considered the two finalists for Big Ten Freshman of the Year this season.
While Branham had 16 points, McGowens was clearly one of the two best players on the floor, along with Liddell.
McGowens posted his 11th 20-point effort of the season, moving him past McCray for the most ever by an NU freshman. He’s also scored in double figures for 12 consecutive games, extending his freshman school record.
Branham undoubtedly won the first meeting in Lincoln, as he scored a career-high 35 points in Ohio State’s overtime victory.
But with Bryce evening the head-to-head score and considering his overall season numbers, there should be no debate about who the conference’s top freshman was this season.
“I just wanted to win,” McGowens told reporters when asked about his matchup with Branham. “Just having a chance to come out and compete again. Everybody steps on the court to win, so I thank the coach, thank the team for coming out and competing every day.
“The rest will take care of itself.”
3. Rebounding nearly cost NU in the end
If there was one major criticism to have about Nebraska’s performance on Tuesday night, it was how badly it got beaten on the boards.
The Huskers have struggled to rebound most of the season, and Ohio State ended up with a 39-28 edge overall and a dominant 14-4 advantage on the offensive glass.
That led to the Buckeyes out-scoring NU 17-4 in second-chance points, and it nearly changed the game in the final minutes.
Leading by 11 with just over three minutes to play, the Huskers gave up four offensive boards that resulted in six second-chance points for OSU, cutting the margin down to four with 55 seconds remaining.
Liddell was the primary source of Nebraska’s issues on the glass, as he accounted for 14 of the Buckeyes’ 39 rebounds. But NU struggled that badly with Ohio State's second and third-leading rebounders out of the game.
Zed Key (5.4 reg) did not play due to an ankle injury, and Kyle Young (5.0) only had eight boards in eight minutes before leaving the game with an illness at halftime.