Buckeyes start slate in Big Ten with rout; Thomas’ 18 outscores Huskers during 1st half

Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas, who scored 22 points, shoots over Nebraska’s Dylan Talley.
Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas, who scored 22 points, shoots over Nebraska’s Dylan Talley.

COLUMBUS — Ohio State coach Thad Matta was asked how good it was that his team had a relatively easy time of it in cruising to a lopsided win in their Big Ten opener.

"Hopefully the next 17 are exactly [like that]," he cracked, his voice trailing off as he flashed a smile.

Deshaun Thomas outscored Nebraska 18-17 in the first half and finished with 22 points to lead the eighth-ranked Buckeyes past the Cornhuskers 70-44 on Wednesday night.

The Buckeyes led by at least 20 points for almost all of the second half.

How bad was it for the Cornhuskers? Only 8 minutes, 27 seconds remained when they finally exceeded the 31 points that their football counterparts scored in a 14-point loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl a day earlier.

"If you don't have any [questions], you won't hurt my feelings," first-year coach Tim Miles joked when he first sat down with reporters after the game.

There were plenty of questions, but not many answers.

The Buckeyes (11-2, 1-0) dominated at both ends while the Cornhuskers (9-5, 0-1) had difficulty finding the basket. They shot 26 percent from the field in the opening half while falling behind big and finished at 30 percent.

Thomas and Ohio State's sticky defense made certain the Buckeyes had an easy time of it.

"Coach [Matta] told me, 'I need you to start out well,' " said Thomas, who played only sparingly in the second half. "The whole team got off fast. And our rotations were good on defense and we got stops when we needed. It was on from there — fastbreaks and dunks and everybody was just rolling."

Lenzelle Smith, Jr., added 17 points for Ohio State, which won its 15th consecutive Big Ten home opener. The Buckeyes have a tough test Saturday at No. 11 Illinois.

Matta was happy he was able to substitute liberally in the second half to rest his starters.

"Honestly, with three games in six days, and two of them on the road, that was probably advantageous for us," he said.

Thomas' big half spelled doom for the Cornhuskers, who came in 6-1 when holding opponents to 60 or fewer points — and 3-3 when they did not.

Nebraska, last in the Big Ten in scoring (61.7 points per game), never had the firepower to get back in the game.

Ray Gallegos had 14 points to lead Nebraska. He said the Buckeyes' defense made everything difficult.

"They were just pressuring everybody," he said. "They were tuned in to what we were doing. They made it tough for us, inside and out."

Nebraska had difficulty getting anything going on offense, particularly struggling to get points inside. When the Huskers drove to the hoop, Aaron Craft was there to pester the ballhandler into a turnover. If they got past him, Ohio State centers Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel stood in the way and blocked or altered shots.

"Coach [Matta] talks about me being a force around the basket, just challenging every shot whether they were driving the ball or trying to shoot over me," said Williams, who made the second start of his career. "I had four blocks today and I think I altered maybe four more. So I did a pretty good job."

At the other end, Thomas scored five points early and then scored seven of the last nine as the Buckeyes ended the half on a 9-0 run. Thomas had one more field goal than Nebraska did — in 15 fewer attempts in the opening half.

He hit 8 of 12 shots from the field including half of his four 3-point attempts. The rest of the Buckeyes were just 7 of 21 (33 percent).

Ohio State scored the first five points of the second half to swell its run to 14-0 and its lead to 41-17. The lead never dropped below 20 again.

Craft was scoreless but finished with eight assists, no turnovers, six rebounds and three steals to disrupt Nebraska's offense.

"That was a fun game. Getting into the Big Ten and being 1-0 is huge," he said. "The Big Ten is very physical. You kind of want to throw the first punch."