By Will Willems Sports Editor
---- — Indianapolis — When looking down Ohio State’s roster for potential heroes, Amadeo Della Valle’s name probably wouldn’t be the first, second, third or even fourth name you pick.
In fact, the sophomore from Alba, Italy had been held to eight points over Ohio State’s last 10 games, including seven where he failed to register a single point.
Yet, with the Buckeyes’ Big Ten Tournament hopes hanging in the balance, trailing by 18 midway through the second half it was Della Valle who helped spark the comeback.
He registered 12 points, his second-most since the calendar turned to 2014 and six rebounds, a career-high to help the Buckeyes to a 71-67 win.“We opened up the second half and had three fouls and missed four free throws,” Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta said. “(Aaron) Craft missed a lay-up, Trey (McDonald) missed a dunk and it was like ‘oh my gosh.’ They were making plays so we inserted Amedeo and I just told him ‘just give us something out there.’ The biggest thing was the 12 points, but his defense was incredible too.”Della Valle had help from Buckeyes’ leading scorer LaQuinton Ross (who scored a game-high 26 points), who was the only other player who had anything going for the Buckeyes.
Nebraska started the second half on a 17-2 run, taking an 18-point lead on two Terran Petteway free throws with 13:45 to go, but then the comeback started.A 3-pointer and a lay-up by Ross and two lay-ups by Della Valle, plus three Nebraska turnovers (including two steals from Della Valle), allowed the Buckeyes to get within nine with 11:52 to play.
Nebraska appeared to stem the tide, maintaining a nine-point advantage with 8 minutes to play, but the Buckeyes continued to press.
Ross had a old-fashioned three-point play and after a defensive stop, Aaron Craft had a putback to cut the deficit to four with 6:50 to play.
The Cornhuskers still led by five with 3:06 to go, but a 3-pointer by Della Valle and two Ross free throws tied the game with 1:52 remaining.
The 3-pointer was Della Valle’s first make in nine attempts, going back to Feb. 15.“This was probably the best moment I have had here,” Della Valle said. “It was a really tough game, but I am glad we came out with a win.”Petteway, the Big Ten’s leading scorer in conference play, missed a jumper, then fouled Ross on the other end with 59 seconds left. Ross hit both free throws, and after Nebraska was called for a travel on the other end, Craft sealed the game with a driving lay-in to put the Buckeyes up four with 20 seconds left.
Della Valle said the team never panicked. “We played with more energy and started picking things up full-court,” he said. “They turned the ball over a couple of times, we got our confidence back and we kept going.”Matta said that even when things weren’t going well for the Della Valle in the month of February, he always stayed positive.“He plays with no ego,” Matta said. “He just plays with a love for the game and just did a tremendous job for us. He was the difference in the game.”The Buckeyes now play archrival Michigan for a berth in the championship game, which would be the sixth-straight appearance in the final for Ohio State.“We just stay the same course,” Matta said. “I think in all the tournaments, you see kids stepping up and making plays. I think that you hope, at this point in the season, that everything you have done going back to Sept. 28 comes to fruition. There’s been a lot of ups and downs in these tournaments, but we have found ways to make plays.”