Ohio State's probably in for the NCAA tournament, but they needed more wins to get themselves into a better matchup, and to try to secure a coveted double-bye in the upcoming BigTen tournament. Suffice to say, there was plenty to play for tonight. PSU was just looking for a little pride, after dropping seven of their last eight games and staring at the bottom of the Big Ten standings.
It looked like it was going to be smooth sailing when the Buckeyes cruised to an early lead. But Ohio State fell behind in the first half on a bit of hot shooting from PSU, clumsy turnovers, and lazy rebounding. Down as much as nine at one point, the Buckeyes went to halftime trailing by one. The Buckeyes missed open looks, free throws, dunks - they did about everything they could to dig themselves a hole in Happy Valley.
PSU came out on a 6-0 run to start the second-half, putting Ohio State back down by seven. But Ohio State righted the ship and came thundering back, thanks, as always to lock-down defense. The Buckeyes' savior '3'Angelo Russell' kept Ohio State in it with several much-needed triples to keep Ohio State on top from the 13 minute mark on. You could almost see the flames around the ball whenever it hit Russell's hands. Something sparked about halfway through the second half. The run-and-gun style came back, and the heightened pace heavily favored the Bucks.
DJ Newbill was generally neutralized in this game, and certainly didn't have the scorching performance he had last year against Ohio State. Sam Thompson did his fair share of defending Newbill, and locked him down for the most part. Ross Travis, PSU's towering forward, was the leading scorer for most of the game until Newbill passed him at the under-5 mark.
3 things we learned:
1. Jae'Sean Tate is firmly in the starting lineup Opponents seem to have figured that you can reliably slow down Ohio State by doubling and trapping D'Angelo. We were suppose to have answers for such strategies in Marc Loving, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, but their production when put on the spot is often ... sub-par. The answer has come in Jae'Sean Tate. He shoots well, certainly better than a freshman, rebounds with energy, and is seemingly always in the right place at the right time. These close game victories are possible thanks to the effort and skills of Tate.
You've got to look past the box score to see Tate's impact, so casual fans might not appreciate his value to this team, but we Buckeye faithful are lucky to have him.
2. Shot selection remains an issue Especially in the first half, the Buckeyes look like they lack confidence in their jump shots. Marc Loving and Sam Thompson in particular passed up perfectly good open jump shots from mid-range and out in favor of moving into traffic for the contested layup. It would be nice to see some more catch-and-shoot behavior from this offense, which excels at moving the ball but fails to take advantage of open looks. Loving was pretty cold all night when he did take the shots, though, so maybe the lack of confidence is understandable. Are Loving and Thompson in a shame spiral? If so, fix it, and quick.
When the pace picked up late in the second half of the game, the shots looked easier. Shannon Scott hit a nice three, and the spacing opened up driving lanes. Russell's shot selection is usually pretty good, but he took it to another level too. Marc Loving stayed invisible.
3. What if... Jae'Sean Tate's motor continues to impress. He ignited the first half scoring run that put the Buckeyes up initially, and played solidly all game long. D'Angelo Russell did his thing, making everyone else look like the JV team. It begs the question -- how good would these Buckeyes be if Russell stayed for next year?
I know Russell shouldn't stay, I know he should go get that NBA paycheck. But how good would these Buckeyes be next year, with a little seasoning on Tate, an improved role for Kam Williams, and Russell looking like a lottery pick. Oh, to dream. With another highly touted recruiting class coming in next year, Russell staying behind could mean the difference between a rebuilding year and a championship run.
Ohio State finishes its regular season on Sunday, Mar. 8, at home against Wisconsin at 4:30 p.m.