There was a lot to talk about when it came to Ohio State’s 70-44 evisceration of Nebraska to open Big Ten play on Wednesday night in Value City Arena.
But let’s just start with the dunk.
It wasn’t an important play in the game – it only gave the Buckeyes a 68-40 lead with three minutes to play – but it was certainly the most memorable in an affair that was over from nearly the first tip.
And it was the moment that brought the most joy out of Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Amir Williams following the game, even after the three put in a game-high 22 points, controlled the tempo despite a scoreless night and had a breakthrough second career start, respectively.
The dunk was put home by Sam Thompson – Slammin’ Sam or Slam Thompson, if you prefer – on a feed by Shannon Scott. Already known for his out-of-the-gym hops, Thompson skied toward the rim from eight feet away, reached behind his head and to the right for the pass, caught it, twisted his body to the left and rattled the rim, all in a seamless, flowing motion that defies physics for more than 99 percent of the population.
“That was his best dunk,” Thomas said, definitively.
“No,” Craft answered.
Incredulous, Thomas said, “Yes it was. He called it. He signed his name,” before pantomiming a signature.
“I’m going to be a little selfish here,” Craft continued, unabated. “That was only good because Shannon threw an awful pass. Last year against Indiana on an out-of-bounds play, Sam actually had to turn his body the same way but it was around somebody and I actually threw it…”
“That was actually an awful pass as well,” Williams interjected, almost under his breath.
Craft, undeterred: “I’m going to say that one was better. (Tonight) was No. 2 though. On the road, it was a bigger away game.”
“It was his best dunk, to me,” said Thomas, unmoved. “He looked it, signed his name, and then…”
“I don’t think he did,” Craft said.
“I think he did,” Thomas said.
That argument was never going to definitive, unlike the blowout final score. Eighth-ranked Ohio State took an 11-3 lead 4:31 into the game and Nebraska never could get it to within a possession, then a 26-4 Buckeye run that sandwiched halftime put the contest away.
The Buckeyes (11-2) got solid performances all around the court. Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, Lenzelle Smith Jr. added 17 points on a career-best five treys, Williams had a career-high eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and Ohio State dominated defensively throughout.
“Hopefully the next 17 are exactly (the same),” head coach Thad Matta deadpanned after moving to 9-0 in Big Ten home openers.
The coach was happy with his team’s performance on both ends of the floor. Ohio State entered with the second-best scoring defense in the Big Ten and had little trouble shutting down Nebraska’s league-worst offense, keeping the visitors to a season-low 30.4 percent (17 of 56) from the floor. The Huskers (9-5, 0-1) made just 6 of 21 threes, were 4 for 8 from the line and had a paltry eight offensive rebounds.
“Guys had a pretty good understanding of what Nebraska was going to try to do, how they were going to try to get shots,” Matta said. “We made a couple of mistakes and they made us pay for it, but overall, I thought that was kind of the game plan – be as active as we could, but on the same token, being sound.”
Nebraska guard Ray Gallegos led the team with 14 points but went 4 for 15 from beyond the arc. Leading scorer Dylan Talley was 4 of 14 for nine points and Brandon Ubel went 2 for 9 on the way to finishing with six.
“I thought they did a good job with their interior defense,” said Nebraska head coach Tim Miles, whose program has less than 10 scholarship players and who took to Twitter to post game analysis at halftime. “We were 11 for 35 on twos. That’s just ineffective basketball. They blocked six shots and it felt like they probably altered another four, five, six, so they did a nice job.”
Ohio State was much better, finishing 29 of 49 (49.2 percent) from the floor and 7 of 17 (41.2 percent) from beyond the arc. Only from the charity stripe, unguarded, did the Buckeyes struggle, going 5 of 13. OSU had the scoring edge in the paint, off turnovers, on second chances, on the fast break and from the bench.
Facing mostly a Nebraska zone, Ohio State closed the first half on a 16-2 run to take a 36-17 lead into the break, punctuated by a layup by Evan Ravenel on an inbounds pass from Craft just before the buzzer. Thomas had 18 in the opening 20 minutes, including a three-pointer and a fast-break dunk late in the half after Talley had a chance to cut the deficit to single digits but missed three free throws.
“I wanted to start off well,” Thomas said. “Coach told me I needed to start off well in practice for this game, and I did. He said ‘Mind right, game right.’ This whole team, you saw how good we played. Our rotation was good on defense, and when we got the stops we needed, it was off from there – fast breaks, dunks, and everybody was just rolling.”
Craft, meanwhile, missed all four of his shots from the floor but chipped in the kind of game that has made him a fan favorite. The banged-up junior point guard played 29 minutes with eight assists, six rebounds, three steals and no turnovers before getting such much-needed rest.
“I thought he was tremendous,” Matta said. “He did a couple of things that nobody would ever pick up on, but they were elements of scouring that were touched on. His ability to see it and then react as quickly as he does is outstanding. I think he had a great impact on the basketball game both offensively and defensively.”
The Ohio State lead passed 30 at 62-31 with 8:51 to play and the Buckeyes cruised from there.
Notes: LaQuinton Ross finished with eight points in 20 minutes while Ravenel had seven and Thompson had six points and six boards. … Craft moved his career steals count to 193, passing David Lighty for second all-time at OSU. Jay Burson holds the record with 204. … Ohio State is 7-2 in the series all-time, including 3-0 since the Huskers have joined Big Ten play. The Buckeyes have won those three games by an average of 30.3 points.