COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Playing its fourth game in eight days, No. 13 Ohio State seemed vulnerable Monday night. Facing a surprising Nebraska team that upset Michigan last week, the Buckeyes were at risk of letting one slip away.
But that didn’t happen. Keita Bates-Diop, the Big Ten’s top scorer, had 14 of his 20 points in the second half and the surging Buckeyes ground out a 64-59 win over the Cornhuskers for their ninth straight conference victory.
Nebraska (14-8, 5-4 Big Ten), fresh off a 20-point win over then-No. 23 Michigan on Thursday, tied it at 46 with 7:56 left with a 3-pointer from James Palmer Jr., who finished with a career-high 34 points.
The lead changed six times in the next four minutes. A pair of foul shots by Palmer cut Ohio State’s lead to four with 2:19 remaining, but the Cornhuskers couldn’t pull any closer.
Jae’Sean Tate put the Buckeyes (18-4, 9-0 Big Ten) up by six with a layup with 1:02 left, and a pair of foul shots by Kaleb Wesson stretched it to eight. Palmer hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, but Nebraska ran out of time.
“I think mentally we just stayed together,” said Tate, who had 17 points. “There were times you could see we struggled. In the first half, we were getting a little frustrated, but I think we did a great job in the second half, especially later on, coming together and staying together.”
Neither team lit up the scoreboard. Ohio State shot 44 percent to Nebraska’s 39 percent.
The secret is out about Bates-Diop, which means he is regularly double-teamed now. That was the case Monday, when the Cornhuskers did a good job of neutralizing him in the first half. Later in the game his teammates figured out how to get him the ball.
“They were doubling me pretty much everywhere,” he said. “Every time I drove someone was coming. Besides slipping screens and just moving around a little bit more with the ball, my teammates found me. It was mostly just layups to the basket.”
Nebraska: The surprising Cornhuskers knocked off a ranked team last week and are a better squad than last season with Palmer carrying the load. But they couldn’t outlast the gritty Buckeyes, who are on a roll.
“I thought we did a lot of good things defensively,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “I was disappointed with our offense in the second half. A game like this you’re only going to get so many chances.”
Ohio State: The Buckeyes may have been fatigued after a rugged traveling schedule and three straight games on the road. But they found a rhythm in the second half and locked down another critical Big Ten win over a scrappy team.
Every week seems to bring another pleasant surprise for Ohio State.
By beating Nebraska, the Buckeyes surpassed their win total for all of last season. Earlier in the day, they moved from No. 22 to No. 13 in the AP Top 25, their highest position since 2014.
CARRYING THE LOAD
Palmer was 11 for 18, and 5 for 11 from beyond the 3-point arc. His 34 points led all scorers, and none of his teammates contributed more than five points.
“I’m no rocket scientist, but I’ll tell you what — when James is going like that we just keep getting him the ball and get out of his way,” Miles said. “James is a special player, and I’m glad he’s with us. He’s one of those guys who’s getting a little better every night out.”
Nebraska: At Rutgers on Wednesday.
Ohio State: Hosts Penn State on Thursday.