For a grand total of 46 seconds, Chris Holtmann offered a first glimpse of an Ohio State lineup with intriguing offensive upside.
With CJ Walker already in the game at point guard and Kyle Young manning the paint, he inserted Justice Sueing and Seth Towns into Wednesday’s 90-54 blowout of Nebraska to join Justin Ahrens as the two, three and four. Suddenly, the Buckeyes had their top two 3-point shooters in Towns and Ahrens playing off of Sueing – who’s the best on the team at getting to the rim – with Walker running the show and Young’s hustle and offensive-rebounding acumen impacting things.
In that less-than-60-second span of time, Ohio State scored five points off of a Towns triple and Sueing layup in transition after a steal. Those buckets helped extend a growing lead to 15 points just 13 minutes into the game. If you thought, “Huh, well, this an interesting lineup,” you weren’t alone. But Holtmann moved on from them after 46 seconds for one reason: Defense.
“We've got to grow in that area if that lineup's going to consistently play, to be quite honest,” Holtmann said afterward.
That’s the type of thing a coach like Holtmann whose three previous Ohio State teams all ranked top-25 nationally in defensive efficiency would say. But it’s also the type of lineup a coach like him can afford to experiment with in a game like the one that played out at the Schottenstein Center in the middle of this week.
To call what happened a beatdown wouldn’t do justice to beatdowns. At halftime, the Cornhuskers trailed by 17 points, but even then it felt as though the deficit would be far too much to overcome. The Buckeyes held them to one made shot from the field in the final 13 minutes of the first half, and they didn’t make a field goal coming out of the visiting locker room until the 16th minute of the second half.
Ohio State held a 41-point lead midway through through the second half and cruised to a 36-point win.
“I thought tonight was a unique Big Ten game in the sense that you don't have many that are like that,” Holtmann said.
For a team that lost a one-point heartbreaker to Northwestern four days beforehand, it was a much-needed, palate-cleansing performance.
Five players scored in double figures – Justin Ahrens (18 points), Zed Key (14), Duane Washington Jr. (13), Justice Sueing (12) and Seth Towns (11) – and Nebraska shot just 28.3 percent from the field and 5-of-33 from 3-point range. End-to-end dominance.
“I thought our guys had good focus, as you'd expect a team coming off a tough loss,” Holtmann said. “They can go in one of two directions. They can respond the right way and come back hungry and with a bit of an edge in practice, and we had an edge in practice these last couple days. I think we were all disappointed. I thought we did some really good things at Northwestern. Just didn't finish it with the kind of across-the-board stuff to win a game like that. But I thought our guys had good purpose, good preparation, respected this Nebraska team.”
In a sense, Ohio State did what Ohio State was supposed to do. It’s the better, more talented team that was favored by double digits. Nebraska’s the only Big Ten team rated outside of the top-55 by KenPom, and it’s well outside of the top-100. Playing at home, the Buckeyes had no choice but to win this one.
The Cornhuskers, though, weren’t the pushovers they were on Wednesday in their prior two outings. They led Wisconsin in the second half and were within six points of Michigan with six minutes remaining. What went down on Wednesday could’ve resembled somewhat of a struggle, but Ohio State ensured it didn’t happen.
It took care of business. It got immediately back on track after a loss that lesser teams take a while to bounce back from. That’s what good Big Ten teams do.
“We have to just continue to move forward,” Sueing said. “Obviously you didn't want to lose that last game, but coach made it an important deal to continue to move forward, that was done and now all we have to do is continue to look forward and learn from our mistakes. Today, I think we did a really good job in taking that step forward, and we're going to have to continue to take that step forward for this game that we have on Sunday.”