The Associated Press
CHICAGO — Sam Thompson grew up in Chicago and went to high school near the United Center. Like all kids in the area, he was a big fan of Michael Jordan.
So this was one special homecoming for the silky smooth sophomore.
Thompson had a career-high 19 points to help No. 10 Ohio State rout Nebraska 71-50 in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday night.
“It felt great to be home, playing front of my family and all that,” he said. “It’s always fun to play back in Chicago.”
Thompson was 6 for 6 from the field in the second half, when the Buckeyes were 17 for 22 overall. The 6-foot-7 forward also had a steal and blocked a shot while playing 28 minutes in his first game in the current home of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls.
“It was cool. We got here about 30 minutes before we were able to touch the basketball and stuff,” said Thompson, a former prep star at Whitney Young High School. “Just coming out here, seeing all the banners, seeing the Madhouse on Madison United Center, it was a great feeling.”
The Buckeyes turned a close game into a runaway with an impressive 30-5 spree spanning halftime that included a little bit of everything. LaQuinton Ross connected on three consecutive 3-pointers, Aaron Craft made a couple of nifty passes and Thompson had two jams to go along with a 3-pointer.
DeShaun Thomas closed it out with a strong reverse dunk that lifted the Buckeyes to a 54-28 lead with 12:01 left. The junior forward flexed and yelled after the big slam led to a celebration on the Ohio State sideline.
“We got off to a slow start and I thought once we focused in and got our minds where they needed to be, we were very effective, especially with the defense,” coach Thad Matta said. “Second half, shooting 77 percent, we had a better pace to our offense, which is what we needed.”
Thomas added 19 points and nine rebounds for the Buckeyes (24-7), who have won six straight games and seven of eight overall. Ross finished with 11 points and Craft had eight assists, giving him 500 for his career.
The Buckeyes advance to face the winner of the last quarterfinal between Iowa and No. 8 Michigan State.
Bothered by Ohio State’s length and athleticism, Nebraska committed 15 turnovers that led to 21 points for the Buckeyes.
“It was definitely something that the game came down to was us not handling the pressure well, kind of being loose with the ball at times,” said Brandon Ubel, who had 16 points and seven rebounds for the Cornhuskers. “It ended up costing us the game. Obviously it’s frustrating when you’re turning the ball over and they’re turning it into buckets at the other end but we just weren’t tight with our game and let that pressure get to us a little bit.”
Shavon Shields scored 14 points for Nebraska (15-18), which advanced with a 57-55 victory over seventh-seeded Purdue on Thursday. The Cornhuskers shot 37.9 percent in the second half, not nearly good enough to keep up with the surging Buckeyes.
Ohio State went 9 for 17 from 3-point range in its third victory against Nebraska this season. The Buckeyes also beat the Cornhuskers 70-44 on Jan. 2 and won 63-56 at Nebraska a month later.
“We know we’ve got to take our shooting really seriously,” Thomas said. “The one thing we did out there, we shared the ball as a team. We hit the right spots. Sam Thompson had a great shooting night.”
With their season on the line, the Cornhuskers got off to a fast start and used a 2-3 zone to control the pace for much of the first half. Ohio State eventually settled down and put together a 16-2 run to take a 22-17 lead on a jumper by Lenzelle Smith Jr. with 5:20 left.
Thomas was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 13 seconds remaining and made all three foul shots to lift the Buckeyes to a 28-23 halftime lead.
“That was a critical play,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “It hurt us, but at the same time we kind of did it to ourselves to start the second half. Their ability to get in transition and hurt us off their defensive pressure was the key to the game.”