A Nebraska defense that got burned all night for layups got burned one last time.
Marc Loving got wide open under the basket for the game-winning layup with 0.6 seconds left, and Ohio State stunned Nebraska 67-66 Wednesday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Huskers had improbably taken a 66-65 lead with 34.7 seconds to go on a Tai Webster layup, and Nebraska’s defense forced a missed three-pointer late in the shot clock on the ensuing possession.
But the Buckeyes corralled the rebound and called timeout with 1.9 seconds left to set up Loving’s heroics.
"I felt like they got away with one tonight," Husker senior Tai Webster said. "But if it was the other way around, I would have felt like we got away with one as well."
Nebraska’s final play, a baseball pass to Webster, was knocked away as Webster went to the floor.
Ohio State (12-7, 2-4), after starting 0-4 in Big Ten Conference play, has now won two straight. Nebraska, darlings of the league after a 3-0 start, dropped its third straight game and saw its record evened at 9-9 and 3-3 in the conference.
"That one definitely stings. It felt like we had control of the game obviously the entire first half and maybe had some chances to put them away and we didn’t," NU forward Michael Jacobson said. "To come back and play that bad the second half and end up with an 'L', especially in a tight conference this year. Now we’re .500 and feel like we should be better than that."
The Huskers shot 29 percent in the second half. They went 7-of-24 from the field in the final 20 minutes and didn’t force an Ohio State turnover after getting 11 Buckeye giveaways in the first half.
Ohio State made 17 shots in the second half and outscored Nebraska 30-10 in the paint in the final 20 minutes.
The Huskers played from behind for the game’s final 8:43 after leading by as many as 12 in the first half. Ohio State took advantage of a foul-riddled and Ed Morrow-less Nebraska defense to get to the rim with regularity. Loving led the Buckeyes with 15 points while Jae’Sean Tate and Jaquon Lyle each scored 13.
Nebraska missed two layups and two free throws for the lead in the game’s closing minutes before Webster’s final shot.
"Regardless of that (final) play, you've got to think about how you got there. We went into halftime with a lead," NU guard Evan Taylor said. "So if we go back to the beginning of the second half, everything leading up to that (final play) you think, 'How did we put ourselves in this position?' When you don't take it seriously and you get into that position, anything can happen."
After leading 40-32 at the break, the Huskers scored just eight points on 3-of-12 shooting in the first 8:44 of the second half as Ohio State got back into the game.
It looked all to similar to the "old" Nebraska offense, with plenty of standing and little ball movement.
Nebraska’s first made free throw didn’t come until the 17:28 mark of the second half — on the team’s fourth attempt.
"If you can get past the emotion of that last-second play — this is what I told the guys in the locker room — we played a really good first half. We had built a lead, kept a lead, had played a very steady defensive game," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. "A lot of young mistakes. Freshmen, sophomores that were making them. But I guess you learn by putting your hand on the burner, and that's what we did tonight. We got burned."
The first half saw Nebraska have its way. After falling behind 7-2, the Huskers used a 17-6 run capped by a Jack McVeigh dunk to go in front for the half’s final 11 minutes.
Nebraska’s defense, a bugaboo during the Huskers’ two-game losing streak, held Ohio State scoreless for stretches of 5 minutes, 13 seconds, 3 minutes 33 seconds and 2 minutes, 23 seconds.
A Pinnacle Bank crowd of 13,842 that included the Red Zone student section for the first time since the Dec. 7 Creighton game had plenty to get loud about.
Despite going 4-of-13 from three-point range in the opening half, Nebraska shot 50 percent and scored 10 points off 11 Ohio State turnovers.
Nebraska, if it wasn't already in a must-win situation in a tightly packed conference race, is certainly there now. The Huskers travel Saturday to take on Rutgers.