INDIANAPOLIS — Burdened by an 18-point, second-half deficit and seemingly headed for a Big Ten tournament exit, Ohio State players knew they would need to be patient if they were to stage a comeback on Friday against Nebraska.
The No. 5 seed Buckeyes shook off lethargy and launched an improbable rally in a 71-67 victory over No. 4 seed Nebraska in a quarterfinal game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We know there’s no 20-point basket, so we (had) to take possessions one at a time and make a stop,” said Buckeyes guard Shannon Scott. “Once we started doing that we started playing our offense.”
After dominating the early stages and then going cold for long stretches, the Buckeyes (25-8) finally regained a lead in the final minute.
Guard Amedeo Della Valle secured the win with four free throws in the final 12 seconds.
“We beat ourselves,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “You’ve got to credit Ohio State with the pressure late. In the last 13 minutes they really did an excellent job of getting us rattled. … At the end of the day when you have a lead like that you should be able to hold it and find a way to win.”
Forward LaQuinton Ross collected 26 points and 13 rebounds while Della Valle finished with 12 points as the Buckeyes earned a date with Michigan in Saturday’s opening semifinals, set to tip off at 1:40 p.m.
Forward Terran Petteway scored 20 points, forward Walter Pitchford had 15 and guard Shavon Shields added 12 for the Cornhuskers (19-12).
Nebraska still has a good shot at landing an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament, although beating Ohio State would have made its situation more secure.
Shields had four points while guard Ray Gallegos added a jumper as Nebraska scored seven unanswered points for its first lead of the game on the way to a 31-28 halftime advantage.
Shields and Gallegos led the Cornhuskers with eight first-half points while Nebraska shot just 12-of-32 (37.5 percent) over the first 20 minutes. Center Amir Williams and Ross had eight apiece for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta offered a sarcastic assessment as his team prepared for the second half.
“I told our guys at halftime that (with) the nine turnovers we had, why don’t we go out there and give them the ball nine times and let them try to score,” Matta said. “They took me literally when we went down 18 points.
“But we fought, we clawed and found a way to win the basketball game.”
Petteway scored seven points as Nebraska opened the second half with a 17-2 run for a 48-30 lead with 13:40 to play.
Ohio State then perked up with nine unanswered points, starting with a Ross 3-pointer with 13:33 showing. He added a jumper while Della Valle had back-to-back scores as the Buckeyes cut the deficit to single digits at 48-39 with 11:52 to play.
The Buckeyes continued to chip away and made it a two-point game with 4:37 left on forward Sam Johnson’s dunk, leaving the Cornhuskers with a shaky 58-56 lead.
Ohio State finally caught Nebraska with 1:52 to play as Ross hit two free throws to force a 63-63 tie. Petteway fouled out with 58.1 seconds showing, and Ross hit two more free throws for a 65-63 Ohio State lead.
Guard Aaron Craft’s driving layup with 17 seconds left extended the lead to 67-63.
“They were turning us over, speeding us up, getting us out of our operating areas,” said Shields. “We weren’t executing on offense, making plays on defense and giving up offensive boards. We kind of fell apart.”
Nebraska had a first-round bye as a top-four seed. The Buckeyes qualified for Friday’s game with a 63-61 first-round victory over Purdue.
Ohio State has made five straight trips to the NCAA tournament since 2009, and last season, it reached a regional final before falling 70-66 to Wichita State, an eventual national semifinalist.
NOTES: Ohio State owns an 11-3 all-time series lead over Nebraska, including a split in a pair of 2013-14 regular-season games. … The Buckeyes are 2-0 in Big Ten tournament play against the Cornhuskers, including a 71-50 decision in a 2013 opening round game. … G
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