For the majority of Monday night's 64-59 win over Nebraska, it looked like Ohio State was playing with tired, heavy legs.
It's because they were.
The Buckeyes overcame a first half in which they shot just 36 percent from the floor to remain unbeaten in conference play, but it the victory wasn't always pretty and didn't come easy.
The win over Nebraska concluded a stretch of four games in eight days for Ohio State, a schedule that featured trips to Piscataway, N.J., Rosemont, Ill., and New York City, with flights back to Columbus squeezed in. Despite the exhaustion of the week, the Buckeyes came out unscathed, at least in the loss column.
Ohio State senior Jae'Sean Tate, who put together a brilliant 17-point, seven-rebound performance against the Cornhuskers, admitted after the win that both he and Keita Bates-Diop were gassed even before the game started.
"Me and Keita were kind of joking before the game. You see all the young guys doing 360's between the legs and me and Keita are just laying it up," Tate said with a smile. "That's just the cards we are dealt with the (Big Ten) tournament being moved up, it's a little tougher."
Early on in the game against Nebraska, Ohio State's offense struggled to find any kind of consistency. At one point, the Buckeyes had as many turnovers as they did made field goals (four). The second half, however, saw Chris Holtmann's team protect the basketball, as OSU did not commit a single second-half turnover.
Tate said Ohio State's success in the second half came from slowing the game down, which perhaps helped in part because of the fatigue that had set in over the previous week.
"From the start we knew it was going to be a grind-it-out game," Tate said. "We just weren't making the correct plays and the correct reads because they have such a good defense. They really made us uncomfortable in the first half. In the second half, they kind of did the same thing, but we were able to slow it down a little bit and get the (win)."
Bates-Diop in particular seemed to have heavy legs in the first half, as the Big Ten Player of the Year candidate scored just six points in 18 minutes to open the game. In the second half, however, the redshirt junior found other ways to score the basketball without settling for perimeter shots.
During a stretch in the second half, Bates-Diop accounted for 12 straight Ohio State points, the majority of which came in the paint. The Normal, Ill. native said since his jumper wasn't falling, likely due to fatigue, he had to find other ways to score in a close game.
"They were doubling me pretty much everywhere and pretty much anytime I drove (to the basket)," Bates-Diop said. "I started slipping screens and just moving around a little bit more and cutting more off the ball. My teammates found me. It was mostly just layups at the basket."
Bates-Diop added that he was pleased with how Ohio State overcame both the mental and physical struggles that come with playing four games in eight days.
"Before the game coach (Holtmann) talked about mental and physical toughness," he said. "We get a couple days off before Penn State, but this is where mental toughness comes in and we showed with our leadership and our older guys that we have a pretty mature team."
Moving forward, Ohio State has another quick turnaround, with the Nittany Lions coming to Columbus on Thursday night. Following that game, however, the Buckeyes will receive a much needed break, as OSU doesn't return to the court until next Tuesday to host Indiana.
While the Buckeyes fight through the fatigue of the season, Tate said he has been encouraged with the way his coaching staff has handled the schedule and practices in between games.
"I think as a team, we are doing a great job. Coaches are focusing more on film and recovery," Tate said, with Bates-Diop nodding along. "I think that has been really helpful."