An 8-0 run by Ohio State early in the second half of its game against Nebraska on Saturday, which included two points via a jumper from Luther Muhammad, gave the Buckeyes a six-point lead with 13 minutes remaining.
But the Cornhuskers began to creep back into the game, just as they had done at the beginning of the second half. Two free throws from Glynn Watson Jr. and a free throw from Tanner Borchardt cut Ohio State's lead to three. Both teams desperately needed victories. The Buckeyes had suffered five straight losses, and Nebraska had lost four of its past six games.
What happened next swung the entire game, and halted the momentum of Ohio State’s loss-laden January.
Kaleb Wesson kicked off what proved to be the deciding stretch of the game with a 3-pointer. The next possession, Muhammad found himself with sufficient space after Wesson screened Thomas Allen and pulled up from beyond the arc, burying the triple while falling to the ground. The next time down the court, Muhammad received the ball, side-stepped Isaiah Roby and pulled up for another 3-pointer that gave Ohio State a 10-point lead.
C.J. Jackson extended the lead to 13 points with a 3-pointer on the following offensive possession, but Nebraska then scored six straight points to cut the Buckeyes lead to seven. With no Ohio State points for three minutes, Chris Holtmann needed someone to step up and end the Cornhusker rally.
Muhammad, playing arguably his best game as a Buckeye, drilled a 3-pointer with the shot clock ticking dangerously close to zero after his team nearly lost control of the ball. Holtmann called it “as critical as any play in the game.”
"I thought if there was a play in the game, it was probably that one because we were on our heels a little bit. It was a late-possession 3," Holtmann said on 97.1 after the game.
Muhammad scored a career-high 24 points in Ohio State's 70-60 win against Nebraska, hitting 7-of-12 shots from the field and going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. With time running out, Muhammad hit all six of his free-throw attempts in the final minute to put away the Cornhuskers.
Still, Ohio State needed contributions from everybody to pull away.
All 10 Buckeyes players who saw time on the court grabbed at least two rebounds. Both Andre Wesson and Jackson scored 10 points, and Jackson added four assists. Keyshawn Woods had nine points and six rebounds. Kaleb Wesson scored just seven points, but had a team-high 11 rebounds and was key to his team out-rebounding the Cornhuskers, 45-31. Musa Jallow, who earned a start after scoring 12 points against Purdue, added five points and four rebounds.
No one, though, was more consistently impactful on both ends of the court than Muhammad. The freshman guard had six rebounds, the second-most on the team, and added three steals, as well.
As Ohio State has endured its five-game losing streak, at times it can be hard to maintain a long-term outlook with the team.
The Buckeyes opened the season with a 12-1 record, heightening expectations of a young team that lost Keita Bates-Diop, Jae'Sean Tate, Kam Williams and Andrew Dakich in the offseason. But they dropped their first five games in the new year in succession before the victory against the Cornhuskers. Ohio State needed a reason for optimism, and Muhammad indulged onlookers.
His performance is only a hint at what is to come in future seasons.
Muhammad entered the program with a penchant for defense and intensity. Even if his offense was completely underdeveloped, he would have been able to make an instant impact on that end of the court.
Early in the season, Muhammad showed off his ability by impacting each shot from Purdue Fort Wayne's John Konchar, who averages 19 points per game, to hold him to only 13. He has been tested since then, guarding Cassius Winston, who lit him up in the second half of Michigan State's win, among others. But he maintains constant activity and an attitude on defense that bleeds over to his teammates.
“Everyone who plays basketball likes to score, but what is scoring if your guy is also scoring?” Muhammad said on Nov. 11. “It's better when you score and also you're getting a stop and your man's not scoring, because if you score 20 and your man scores 20, you really ain't score.”
What about scoring 24 points while also agitating opponents on the other end of the court? Because that's what Muhammad did on Saturday.
At this point in Muhammad's career, the 6-foot-3 guard isn't a primary scorer. He isn't even a consistent secondary scorer. But the tools are there. On a team bereft with ball-handlers who can slash through the lane and finish, Muhammad's ability to drive stands out. He also has a nice mid-range jumper. He even cracked 40 percent from beyond the arc with his 3-for-4 performance from 3-point range on Saturday.
Muhammad isn't a finished product. Far from it. But his 24 points, six rebounds and three steals hint at his long-term potential.