Bryce Jordan Center
In a season of ups and downs, the Ohio State men's basketball team may have hit complete rock bottom Jan. 29 against Penn State in Columbus.
With the clock winding down in overtime, Penn State junior guard D.J. Newbill connected on a cold blooded pull up jumper over one of the best defenders in the country, Aaron Craft. Newbill's clutch shot broke a 17-game winning streak for Ohio State over the Nittany Lions since head coach Thad Matta had taken over in Columbus.
More importantly, the Buckeyes were put in a position to dig deep and figure out what issues had led them to lose five out of six games.
Ohio State has since banded together to reel off six Big Ten wins in seven games.
Junior forward Sam Thompson talked about accountability in the locker room in the team press conference Wednesday afternoon.
"One of the sayings going through our locker room is no more 'My bads,'" said Thompson.
The Buckeyes understand better than any other team that this Penn State team is no joke, even with the Nittany Lions sitting in last place in the Big Ten (4-10). The Nittany Lions have multiple guards that can handle the basketball and put up huge scoring games at any moment.
Newbill hails from Philadelphia and has a toughness that is associated with many Philly guards. He leads Penn State in three-point field goal percentage (34.6 percent), and can also get to the rim with his 205-pound body.
Newbill is complemented by senior Tim Frazier who is second on the team in scoring at 16.0 points per game. Frazier is no stranger to taking and making big shots. His game winning hoop against Indiana Feb. 12 gave Penn State two times as many Big Ten wins as a year before.
Penn State can certainly get buckets if need be Thursday night in its second meeting with Ohio State. The issue for the Nittany Lions is on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank dead last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (72.6 ppg). The Buckeyes are coming off two of their most impressive offensive outputs of the season, scoring 76 against Northwestern and falling four points shy of 50 in the second half against Minnesota.
The key to Buckeyes' success against Northwestern and Minnesota was getting into early offense before the defense could set up in the half court. There is no secret that Ohio State lacks shooting on its roster, but the Buckeyes possess multiple athletes to throw at any given opponent.
It will be important for senior guards Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. to pressure the ball handlers so Buckeye fans can see more of Sam Thompson's high flying slam dunks.
Thompson finished with a season-high 19 points in Ohio State's most recent victory against Minnesota and continues to impress since being inserted into the starting lineup.
"Every game from here on out is a 'must win.' We have to come out and give our best efforts for 40 minutes," said Thompson.
Another big performance from Thompson could give Ohio State its 10th conference victory, which would be good for fourth place in the league.
Numbers to Know
According to bbstate.com, the Buckeyes force their opponents into turnovers 21 percent of all possessions. Most people know the Buckeyes are an excellent defensive team, but this statistic is incredible when you consider both the Big Ten and national averages are a little over 17 percent. This continues to support the notion that Ohio State has one of the best defensive backcourts in America.
Penn State allows 36 rebounds per game from its opponents, which ranks next to last in the Big Ten. The Buckeye big men should be able to crash the glass and get lots of put backs. Amir Williams should be able to add to his Big Ten leading field goal percentage (.599).
Also per bbstate.com, Penn State scores more than half of its points inside the three-point arc (50.5 percent). The Buckeyes are among the best nationally at stopping the three-pointer, but they must make it a priority to stop the dribble penetration of the Penn State guards.
Cast of Characters
Let's take a minute to congratulate Craft. He is one of the most well known Buckeyes so we don't normally highlight him here, but he was recently named a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award. He is a two-time academic All-American and is inching ever so closely to the top-30 on Ohio State's all-time scoring list. He needs needs just three points to pass Ron Stokes for No. 31. Kudos, Aaron.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Smith is the other senior leader on the Buckeyes. If you remember, he is the guy that said losing to Penn State was the worst loss of his career at Ohio State. Smith scored 13 points against Minnesota Saturday night, giving him double figures in 8 out of his last 10 games. Another double figure scoring game is much needed for Ohio State Thursday in State College, PA.
This junior guard from Philly is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.4 points per game (DID I MENTION HE WAS FROM PHILLY?!). He put up a monster game against Ohio State (25 points and eight rebounds) in a 71-70 overtime win in late January. He will be seeing lots of the Aaron Craft treatment in this one.
Travis is a junior forward from Minnesota and we highlight him because he happens to be Penn State's leading rebounder (6.9 rpg). The Nittany Lions are seeking a sweep and would be well served to attack the offense glass against an Ohio State team that can be vulnerable in that area.