CHICAGO - Slow starts have been a calling card for the Ohio State Buckeyes this season and Ohio State's first game of the Big Ten Tournament was no different as the Bucks spotted the No. 10 seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers a 15-6 lead before exploding with a 77-percent (from the field) second half en route to a 71-50 rout. Deshaun Thomas had 19 points, as did Chicago native Sam Thompson who was red hot from the field (8-9, 3-4 from three point distance).
The Buckeyes were forced to take a timeout 3:32 into the game and head coach Thad Matta voiced his extreme displeasure with his team's performance.
"Yeah, it was déjà vu," Matta said. "We have notoriously started our first game like this, and the thing is, I would try the best that I could to warn our guys that this could happen."
Ohio State had easily dispatched the Huskers on two occasions during the regular season and may had expected to play Purdue rather than Nebraska and several players admitted that their heads may not have been where they needed to be to start the game.
"After that first four minutes where they were kind of shooting any shot they wanted and knocking any shot down, we just went back to playing Ohio State defense and that's when we are at our best, " Ohio State guard Aaron Craft said.
Thomas was benched for close to four minutes during that stretch, an unfamiliar position for the team's leading scorer and first team All-Big Ten selection. Thomas did not use the time to sulk and stayed in the game as a spectator while the Buckeyes climbed out of a nine point hole.
"Actually, I was just cheering on my teammates. Sam [Thompson] got an easy bucket to the lay-in and I was just thinking about getting my mind right, that's what I was thinking on the bench, and that's what I did, and cheering on my teammates," Thomas said.
Unfortunately for the upset-minded Huskers, the Buckeyes did snap out of the early doldrums and torched the United Center with hot offense and stifling defense.
"I thought we had a good start. Just couldn't get the clock to run fast enough to get out of that first half," Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said. "But have to credit Ohio State. That defensive pressure made all the difference."
The Buckeyes jumped out to a 16-2 run to make the score 22-17 and took a five point lead into the locker room. The second half was all Buckeyes and Ohio State led by 26 on a couple of occasions. Nebraska did make a slight run to tighten things up and force Matta to bring several of his starters back in to wrestle momentum away but the game was never really in contention after Ohio State started the 2nd half on an 11-0 run.
"We got off to a slow start," Matta said. "I thought once we focused in and got our minds where they needed to be, we were very effective, especially with the defense. Second half, shooting 77 percent, we had a better pace to our offense, which was what we needed."
Matta joked after the game that he has had to deliver impassioned talks to his teams before at the Big Ten Tournament. They have seemed to work with Ohio State being one of the most successful teams in the history of the post-season tournament.
"It's probably the same. I mean, I can take you back stories of Big Ten Tournaments of screaming at Greg Oden one time; to screaming a timeout, my gum landed off David Lighty's leg which kind of broke the mood of what I was doing. But I say that, you know, it's at that stage," Matta said.
The Buckeyes will draw the winner of the Michigan State/Iowa game on Saturday afternoon in the Big Ten semifinals.
"We have a big game tomorrow against whoever we play," Craft said. "It's going to be a tough battle. We can't afford to not be ready to go at the beginning, otherwise, maybe we won't be able to come back."