Ohio State Opens Big Ten Play, Defeating Penn State in State College
Coming off the big upset of #1 Duke, Ohio State did not have a let down. The Buckeyes built a lead to as many as 18 in the second half and fended off a furious Penn State rally to hang on and defeat the Nittany Lions 76-64 to move to 6-2 and 1-0 in Big Ten play. Penn State got as close as six in the closing minutes, but the Buckeyes were able to put the Lions away to come away with a solid road win. Kyle Young led Ohio State off the bench with 16, while E.J. Liddell added 14 and Malaki Branham had 11. Jamari Wheeler made his return to Penn State, and through a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball, played a tremendous floor game, adding 9 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists and 3 steals.
The Buckeyes jumped out in front 5-0 early as Malaki Branham opened the scoring with a triple from the left wing and Jamari Wheeler got to the rim off the bounce to lay it in. Penn State answered in a big way. A triple cut the lead to 2 and following 3 straight Ohio State turnovers, Penn State took advantage with 7 more to go on a 12-0 run to force Chris Holtmann to call a timeout. Meechie Johnson entered following the timeout and made his presence felt, drilling a three from the right point to trim the deficit to four. After a Nittany Lion turnover, Wheeler found the bottom for three from the left corner and on the next possession, Justin Ahrens drilled a triple to put Ohio State back ahead. Penn State ended the Buckeye burst with a three of their own, but Kyle Young buried a three from the left point to put the Buckeyes back in front. The lead extended to four when Johnson shimmied and put the ball on the floor and scored off the glass and at the under 12 media timeout, Ohio State led 19-15 and on a 14-3 run. Penn State cut the lead to a pair with a baseline runner, but Wheeler got to the rim just before the shot clock for a bucket to put the Buckeyes back up four. Penn State cut the lead back to two, but back came Ohio State. Young drilled another three from the left corner and Cedric Russell hit a wide open three from the top forcing Penn State to call timeout with just under 10 minutes left in the half and Ohio State leading 27-19. The Lions cut the lead to six with a bucket but a pair of E.J. Liddell free throws a Zed Key bucket from the left block put Ohio State up 10. A Lion hoop followed by a Branham short jumper off the glass sent the teams to the benches at the under 4 media break with Ohio State leading 33-23 and 3:36 to go in the first half. Branham hit a 10 footer to up the lead to 12 but a hook and hold foul called on Ahrens led to a pair of Nittany Lion free throws and with possession of the basketball, the Lions hit a three and a five point possession cut the lead to 7. Liddell increased the lead to nine with a short bucket mid paint and two Young free throws put the Buckeyes back up 11. The Lions scored to cut the lead to nine, but a Liddell bucket just before the horn, following his own shot after being blocked initially sent the teams to the locker room with Ohio State enjoying a 41-30 halftime lead. Ohio State shot 55.6% from the floor including 7 of 16 from beyond the arc, while holding Penn State to 44.4%. The Buckeyes had a 16-2 advantage in bench points, which included a team high 8 from Kyle Young. Malaki Branham added 7 and Jamari Wheeler also added 7 in addition to 4 rebounds and 4 assists in the first 20 minutes.
The Buckeyes came out of the locker room quick, outscoring the Lions 7-2 in the early moments as Key and Liddell scored at the rim and an Ahrens three from the right corner put Ohio State up 16. Penn State cut the lead to 14, but a pair of Liddell free throws and a steal and score in transition by Wheeler put Ohio State ahead 18 and forced Penn State to call timeout with 16:22 left in the game. Out of the timeout, Penn State grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the put back but Joey Brunk scored from the left block to get the lead back to 18. The Lions cut the lead to 15 with a triple from the right point but a Young three from the top answered. Six straight Penn State points cut the lead to 12 before Liddell found Branham streaking across the baseline for a reverse lay-in and at the under 12 media timeout, Ohio State led Penn State 59-45. Both teams suddenly went ice cold as nobody scored over the next four minutes before Penn State finally got a short jumper to fall, cutting the lead to 12. The Buckeyes lead went back to 15 when Young rolled down a three from the left wing. A 10-2 Penn State run cut the lead to just 7 with Ohio State’s only bucket coming from Branham’s short jumper mid-paint. Johnson stopped the run, hitting a triple from the right point, putting Ohio State back ahead 10, but back came Penn State with a hoop to cut the lead to 8 and just before the under 4 media break, an Ohio State foul would send Penn State to the stripe following the timeout with Ohio State leading 67-59. The free throws dropped to cut the lead to six, but Ahrens answered with a huge three from the left wing to quiet the crowd and put Ohio State back up 9. An old fashioned three point play by Penn State cut the lead back to six but just 50 seconds left. The Buckeyes broke the full court Penn State press, finding Liddell for an uncontested dunk to put Ohio State back up 8. Two free throws each by Young and Liddell completed the scoring as Ohio State opened conference play with a win.
Any win on the road is a big win, especially in the Big Ten conference. Ohio State played extremely well for the first 25 minutes, but some complacency in the middle of the second half, a lot due to Penn State’s defense, got the Nittany Lions back in it. Penn State clearly wanted to pack the paint and limit Liddell and Key’s touches, doubling down every time they got the ball in there. That strategy is a good one when facing a team that struggles to shoot the ball, but to Ohio State’s credit, six different players hit a three, 12 total to build a big lead. The Buckeye bench and depth was clearly a factor in this game, out-scoring Penn State’s bench 29-5 and that will be a big advantage for Ohio State moving forward, especially when Justice Sueing and Seth Towns return in January.
The Buckeyes, who should be back in the Top 25 after a short hiatus, head back home on Wednesday night to host Towson at 9pm, airing on ESPNU.