Men’s Basketball: No. 13 Ohio State escapes Nebraska with 87-79 overtime win

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Ohio State freshman guard Malaki Branham (22) dribbles the ball towards the net during the Ohio State-Niagara game Friday. Ohio State won 84-74. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Ohio State made just 25 percent of its shot attempts late in Sunday’s game, but stepped up when needed most.

The No. 13 Buckeyes (9-2, 3-0 Big Ten) defeated Nebraska (6-8, 0-3 Big Ten) 87-79 in overtime at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Freshman guard Malaki Branham’s career-high 35 points and graduate guard Jamari Wheeler’s clutch shooting from deep late in the game helped secure the victory.

With 27 seconds left in the second half and Ohio State down five, Wheeler drained a crucial 3-pointer with a hand in his face off the pass from senior forward Justin Ahrens to trim the deficit to 72-70.

The Buckeyes fouled Nebraska junior forward Lat Mayen with 22 seconds to go and he clanked both shots to give Ohio State a fighter’s chance.

Freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. — who made the game-winning 3-pointer against Seton Hall — took the ball up the floor and dribbled up the right block, missing off the front of the rim. Junior forward E.J. Liddell collected the team’s 13th offensive rebound before getting fouled on his second-chance attempt.

Despite only having six points on 2-for-13 from the field to that point, Liddell — who entered Sunday shooting 72 percent from the free throw line — knocked down both to tie the game at 72 with nine seconds to go.

Liddell finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.

Nebraska brought the ball up the floor and got an offensive rebound off the miss by senior guard Kobe Webster, but sophomore guard Eugene Brown III — who checked in just seven seconds prior and played just seven minutes on the night — came from behind and blocked the put-back attempt to preserve the tie, sending the game to the extra period.

Wheeler shined during free basketball, making a pair of dagger 3-pointers to help secure the victory. He finished with 16 points, but had some help from Johnson and Branham who combined for five points in the overtime period.

The Buckeyes struggled to get to the free throw line early, heading to the charity stripe twice in the first 20 minutes. However, Ohio State rallied and finished a perfect 8-for-8 at the line in the final 3:47 of regulation and in the five-minute overtime period.

Ohio State shot 79 percent from the free throw line at an 11-for-14 clip.

Nebraska junior forward Derrick Walker and Mayen made two second-chance layups to put the Cornhuskers ahead 70-65, and as Ohio State was reeling for points, it looked bleak for the Buckeyes with 2:10 to play.

Ohio State turned to the hot-handed Branham who knocked down a jumper at the elbow to cut the deficit to 70-67 and contribute to its 28 points in the paint.

The Cornhuskers entered Sunday outrebounded 577-471, and their problems followed them into the game Sunday. The Buckeyes beat Nebraska off the glass 42-34 leading to 12 second-chance points — including a pair of key first-half makes from Wheeler.

Nebraska started 0-for-5 from 3, and things just got worse for the Cornhuskers downtown as they shot just 35 percent from that area. They only hit three 3-pointers on 12 attempts in the first half, but abandoned that game plan — taking 11 3-point attempts in the final 25 minutes of play — and attacked the rim to earn 38 points in the paint.

The Huskers had three players finish in double figures, as freshmen guard Bryce McGowens and C.J. Wilcher and Walker scored 18, 13 and 15 points, respectively.

Ohio State is back on the road Thursday continuing its Big Ten gauntlet against Indiana at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on FS1.

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