COLUMBUS, Ohio — They’re in ink, those five nonconference road losses, the ones that’ll probably saddle the résumé of Nebraska women’s basketball come March, when the NCAA and WNIT tournaments form two lines. NU still has a lot of work to do to return to the bigger dance of the two.
But perhaps Nebraska learned a little bit from losing that helped win its first true road game Monday at Ohio State. The Huskers trailed for most of three quarters until their second straight fourth-quarter surge — powered again by Nicea Eliely — produced their second straight win to start Big Ten play.
A 78-69 victory at rebuilding OSU — defending Big Ten champs in name only — wasn’t pretty, but it was crucial, and coach Amy Williams liked the guts it took to turn a 53-51 deficit in the third quarter into a decisive fourth quarter. NU, already outscoring opponents this season by six points per game in the final quarter, beat the Buckeyes 27-16 over the final 10 minutes, three days after outscoring Michigan 33-13 in the fourth quarter of a 70-56 win.
“I like that toughness,” Williams said on the Husker Sports Network. “I like that ability to kind of dig in and not quit when things get kind of rough. Some of that nonconference schedule and tough road games were very, very hard to live through, but they taught us some things and they helped us to get a win here today.”
Nebraska (7-6, 2-0 Big Ten) overcame early-shooting woes and hung in the game thanks to a career-high 19 points from Leigha Brown, but it was sophomore Nicea Eliely, for a second straight game, who dominated in the fourth quarter, hitting two 3-pointers and converting a key three-point plays as part of her 14 total points.
“Nicea definitely came up big in the fourth quarter,” said Brown, the Auburn, Indiana, native who had 30 family members at Monday’s game. “She’s a huge player on our team and we’ll always need her to do that for us.”
Senior Maddie Simon chipped in 16 points and Hannah Whitish, still struggling with her shot, hit two key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to finish with 11.
Ohio State (4-7, 0-2) was led by freshman Dorka Juhasz, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. So did OSU forward Makayla Waterman. The Buckeyes have multiple graduate transfers, freshmen and a few role players to fill in gaps left by graduations and departures from the program. They had won five straight over Nebraska — with much better teams — until Monday, when Buckeye coach Kevin McGuff was frustrated enough to draw a technical foul late in the game.
By then, Nebraska had already seized control the game, breaking it open with a 15-3 run midway through the fourth quarter. Whitish hit a corner 3-pointer to give NU a 64-62 lead that it never relinquished, but it was Eliely’s three-point play — off a steal by freshman Sam Haiby — with 2:43 left that pushed the lead to 73-65.
It was a duplication of Eliely’s big fourth quarter against Michigan, when she scored all 14 of her points over the final 10 minutes.
“We made plays when we needed to make plays and had another really good fourth quarter, I thought, and we were able to steal one on the road,” Williams said.
NU gets a tougher road test Thursday with a game at Iowa.