Ohio State Grinds Out Tough Big Ten Win

16th ranked Ohio State got back in the win column, defeating visiting Penn State 61-56 in the Schottenstein Center to sweep the season series against the Nittany Lions. The win moved Ohio State to 11-4 and 5-2 to keep the Buckeyes in the thick of the conference title race. The loss dropped Penn State to 8-7 and 3-4 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes took control 6 minutes into the game, turning a six point deficit into a six point lead, out scoring the Lions 15-3 over the next 8 minutes, but every time Ohio State tried to pull away, Penn State clawed right back but they were never able to get it below a two possession game. Both teams were playing short handed.  The Buckeyes were without Meechie Johnson for the second straight ball game, along with the continued absence of Justice Sueing and Seth Towns. Penn State was without leading scorer Seth Lundy who didn’t make the trip to Columbus due to an undisclosed reason. The tempo favored the Nittany Lions the majority of the game, who rank 347th in the country in speed of tempo, but Ohio State kept grinding, showing the effort and toughness in the half court on the defensive end and that effort was eventually rewarded on the offensive end. E.J. Liddell led all scorers with 19 points and 8 rebounds, while Zed Key added 10. Both teams slogged through a tough shooting night with Ohio State hitting on just 38.6% of their attempts, including a season low 3 triples on 12 tries. Penn State hit 39.6% overall and just 6 of 22 from beyond the arc.

An 0-3 Ohio State start contributed to a Nittany Lion 6=0 run to open the game. E.J. Liddell ended the early Penn State run, drilling a jumper just above the free throw line and Zed Key scored just above the left block to get the Buckeyes within 2. Four straight Penn State points put the Lions up 6, but Liddell was fouled attempting a three from just to the right of the top of the circle to send the teams to the benches for the first media timeout with the Buckeyes trailing the Nittany Lions 10–4 with Liddell due to hit the stripe for 3 shots. Liddell made just one of the three to cut the deficit to 5, and after a Penn State miss, Malaki Branham drilled a three from the top of the key off inside outside action from Liddell to cut the lead to two. Liddell hit a baseline jumper to tie it. Solid defensive rotation on back to back possessions allowed Ohio State to grab their first lead when Jamari Wheeler got to the rim for a score. On the ensuing possession, more of the solid half court Buckeye defense forced Penn State into a turnover to send the teams to the benches at the under 12 minute media timeout with Ohio State now on top 12-10 and on a 6-0 run.  A Lion free throw ended the run, but a Justin Ahrens triple from the right corner put the Buckeyes up four and two Zed Key free throws had the Buckeyes up six.  A Penn State bucket, followed by a Wheeler score at the rim got the game to the under 8 media timeout with Ohio State leading 19-13 and out scoring Penn State 15-3 over the last 8 minutes. The Lions split a pair of free throws out of the timeout and was quickly followed by a Liddell dunk and Ohio State was up 7. Zed Key exited the game with an apparent ankle injury and was replaced by Joey Brunk who made his presence known immediately, scoring on a short jump hook to increase the lead to nine. Five straight Penn State points led to the under 4 media timeout with the Buckeyes leading 23-19. The lead went back to seven when Liddell was fouled going up after ripping down an offensive rebound and knocked down both freebies. Penn State split a pair of free throws, but a pair from branham put Ohio State back up 7. A Penn State bucket cut the lead to five and after a Buckeye miss, the halftime horn rang with Ohio State taking a lead into the locker room 27-22 despite going without a field goal in the final 6 minutes. The Nittany Lions controlled the pace in the first half and the shooting on both sides reflected the low scoring game in the first 20 minutes. Ohio State hit just 33% and 2 of 9 from deep, while Penn State hit just under 30% and 2 of 11 from long range. E.J. Liddell led all scorers with 9 first half points to go along with 6 rebounds, while Malaki Branham added 5. 

The Buckeyes opened the second half scoring the first five. Wheeler split a pair of free throws and back to back Key hooks in the lane forced Penn State to call timeout just over 2 minutes into the half with Ohio State threatening to pull away, up 32-22. Penn State was not going away, however, scoring the next four, to cut Ohio State’s lead to six. Liddell ended the run, scoring mid paint while being fouled. He missed the free throw, but an offensive rebound kept the possession alive and Key scored with the baby hook from the right block to put the Buckeyes back up 10. Five straight Lion points cut the lead to five, but a pair of Branham free throws ended the run and had Ohio State back ahead by 7.  Penn State scored off a screen on an uncontested dunk, but Young found Eugene Brown at the rim for a bucket to answer and keep the Buckeye lead at 7. After Penn State split a pair of free throws, Liddell hit a 15 foot fade away jumper and on the next possession, Brown pumped in the left corner and put the ball on the floor along the baseline and dunked to put the Buckeyes up 10 and Penn State called a 30 second timeout. The Lions responded to the timeout, drilling back to back triples sandwiched around a Liddell free throw and at the under 8 media timeout, the Buckeyes led 45-40. Out of the timeout, Brown hit a pair of free throws to give the Buckeyes a little cushion for the moment. Penn State scored on another dunk out of a baseline in bounds play, but a Young free throw put the Buckeyes back ahead by 6.  Penn State cut the lead to four briefly before a Liddell three from the left point put Ohio State up 7. Penn State answered with a triple of their own to cut the lead back to four and Chris Holtmann called timeout with 3:50 left in the game and Ohio State clinging to a 51-47 lead. Branham made one free throw in four attempts and Liddell made two and the Buckeyes were up 7 with just under 2:30 remaining. Penn State made a pair of free throws to cut it to five, but a pair of Young free throws allowed the Buckeyes to maintain their 7 point lead.  A Penn State runner trimmed the lead to five, but four Wheeler free throws put the Buckeyes up 9. A Penn State bucket and a triple after an Ohio State turnover trimmed the lead back to four but with just 7 seconds left on the clock and Penn State called a timeout. Young was fouled in the backcourt and he split a pair of free throws to end the scoring and complete the Buckeye win.

Nothing is easy in the Big Ten conference, reflected in Ohio State’s strength of schedule, ranked 2nd toughest in college basketball and to be sitting 11-4, while playing short handed the majority of the year is nothing short of remarkable. Despite struggling mightily at the line, making just 24 of 36 attempts, the Buckeyes played solid defense in the half court, winning many of the 50/50 battles and turned the ball over a season low 9 times, which aided them in escaping with a win. Getting healthy, continuing to find their post Covid legs and finding consistency in the half court offense will be on the menu as the Buckeyes get back into the practice gym for another quick turnaround. They will take a little Big Ten breather, going out of conference for the next game, welcoming in the 1-13 IUPUI Jaguars to the Schott before getting back into Big Ten play on Sunday, hosting Nebraska. 

Ohio State will continue the homestand, hosting the aforementioned IUPUI Jaguars to the Schott on Tuesday evening.  Gametime is scheduled for 7 PM and airing on BTN.

-Jason Harris

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