Ohio State’s Marc Loving is squeezed in by Nebraska’s Nathan Hawkins, left, and Tai Webster. Loving, a St. John’s graduate, scored 13 points off the bench.
COLUMBUS — It was the substitutes’ turn to step into the spotlight for No. 3 Ohio State.
Amedeo Della Valle had 15 points, Marc Loving scored a career-high 13, and the bench provided 38 points as the Buckeyes sprinted past Nebraska 84-53 on Saturday.
“We just try to bring a lot of energy,” said Loving, a freshman forward. “We feel like our energy off the bench can affect the game in a major way, whether it’s scoring or rebounding or, like today, Amedeo had a lot of deflections on defense. That added a little extra spark to the game and really got us going.”
Coach Thad Matta has had several teams that he seldom relied on more than six or seven players. This year he has gone with nine players, all of whom have contributed.
“I like this group,” Matta said of his second unit. “Because the big thing that you want as a coach is guys to understand what they’re supposed to do when they go in. I think they saw today that maybe we weren’t as focused as we needed to be in a couple of areas, and they brought that to the table.”
The starters also carried their end of the load.
LaQuinton Ross scored 11 points, including two critical 3-pointers, as the Buckeyes (15-0, 2-0 Big Ten) pulled away early in the second half. Shannon Scott had 13, and Amir Williams chipped in with 10 points for Ohio State, which shot 54 percent from the field (27 of 50) and 47 percent on 3-pointers (9 of 19).
A blend of starters and bench players fueled a 7-0 run to close out the half that gave the Buckeyes a 10-point lead.
After the lead had swelled, Nebraska (8-6, 0-2) failed to hit a field goal during the last eight minutes.
Della Valle, a native of Italy, helped turn the tide in the final 100 seconds of the first half with a tip-in. He also made plays that led to turnovers as the Buckeyes pulled away.
Shavon Shields slashed across the lane and tossed up a shot that cut Ohio State’s lead to 33-30 with 2 minutes, 29 seconds left. But the Buckeyes’ defense turned up the pressure.
Aaron Craft got things going with a 3 from the right wing at the 1:17 mark — his first made 3-pointer in four games — before Scott’s deflection and steal led to Della Valle tipping in Scott’s missed layup.
Ohio State blocked Nebraska’s final two shots of the half — both by David Rivers — with Trey McDonald batting away the first and Sam Thompson the second. Thompson was then fouled with 2.7 seconds left and hit both free throws to make it 40-30.
“It was huge going into the half knowing we had a 10-point lead, especially playing the last four minutes with that energy compared to the first four or five minutes [of the game] when we didn’t have that energy,” he said. “And that led to a great start of the second half.”
The Buckeyes, leading the Big Ten in scoring defense at 55.1 points a game, limited the Cornhuskers to 38 percent shooting from the field (21 of 56) while forcing 17 turnovers.
Terran Petteway scored 15 points and Leslee Smith had 11 for the Cornhuskers, who have lost 20 consecutive road games to ranked teams since beating No. 22 Texas A&M on Feb. 23, 2008.
“Ohio State came out with better pace on offense in the second half,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “[Ross] made the consecutive 3s. When we let them go 9 for 19 from 3, you’ve got a problem on your hands with Ohio State.”
It was a last tuneup before the biggest test of the season for the Buckeyes, at No. 5 Michigan State on Tuesday night.
“Collectively we have a very good mindset going into our next game,” Loving said. “Michigan State’s a very tough team.”
Matta said he was pleased that the Buckeyes had opened with two victories in the Big Ten to add luster to the showdown. They won 78-69 before a loud, hostile crowd Tuesday at Purdue.
“Most importantly, we took care of what we needed to do,” Matta said. “Tuesday’s environment over there in West Lafayette was probably very, very similar to what we’re going to see on Tuesday night [at Michigan State].
“Our guys have a great appreciation for how good Michigan State is. We’ve got a couple of days here where we have to get ourselves ready.”