After losing two in a row and three out of its last four, Ohio State basketball bounced back in Columbus Monday night. The Buckeyes beat Penn State by a score of 66-46 at Value City Arena on a night when sophomore Keita Bates-Diop came out on fire and the Nittany Lions struggled mightily from the perimeter.
Head coach Thad Matta changed things up before tip-off, inserting freshman AJ Harris into the starting lineup at the point guard position in lieu of fellow frosh JaQuan Lyle. Harris had his best game at Ohio State last time out, scoring 11 points in 12 minutes and playing excellent defense against Purdue.
With Harris' speed, the Buckeyes began the game applying full court pressure, and overall came out playing at a much faster pace than in recent games. In the game's first four minutes, Bates-Diop and junior Marc Loving both knocked down three-pointers to give the Scarlet and Gray an early 10-6 lead. Harris assisted on both.
Everything early from the Nittany Lions was from the perimeter, which did not work out well for the worst three-point shooting team in the Big Ten. Penn State missed its first 13 shots from beyond the arc. Further hampering head coach Patrick Chambers' squad was sophomore point guard Shep Garner, the team's second-leading scorer, rolling his ankle in the game's first minute, leaving the game, and then visibly laboring to move around when he returned.
But five turnovers in the game's first eight minutes prevented Ohio State from taking advantage. A Loving triple was the only made field goal in the game, by either side, over a five minute span. Penn State missed seven straight shots, including six from deep, and the Buckeyes' lead stood at 13-6.
The shooting woes for the Nittany Lions continued, as their scoring drought lasted over seven minutes. Thanks to a pair of corner jumpers by Bates-Diop and a three-pointer from Lyle, the Ohio State lead ballooned to 20-10.
Bates-Diop continued his onslaught after that, knocking down two more from deep. After having struggled since conference play began, the Normal, Illinois native led all scorers with 13 points at the intermission. Nothing seemed to be falling for Penn State, and the deficit reached 15 points, 29-14.
Garner finally found a way to get a deep shot to fall, and senior Donovon Jack followed with one of his own as the Nittany Lions finished the half on a 12-4 run, heading to the locker room down 33-26.
Layups by Tate, Bates-Diop, and Harris to open the second half pushed Ohio State's lead out to double digits once again at 39-28, but Penn State continued to hang around. Turnovers and suspect shot selection, as has been the case so often this season, prevented the Buckeyes from pulling away.
A sweeping layup and a midrange jumper by Tate, coupled with a corner three from Lyle put the Nittany Lions in a dangerous spot, down 49-35 at the under-12 timeout.
Two free throws by freshman Mickey Mitchell and a three-point play by Loving pushed the lead out to 19 points, but again sloppy play allowed Penn State to hang around.
But Bates-Diop again came up with a big bucket, knocking down a corner three, and Tate got out on the break for a layup, and the 18-point lead was more than the Nittany Lions could overcome. Tate finished the game with 15 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting.
Bates-Diop put together a complete game, scoring 22 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and blocking four shots.
3 things we learned
1.) Be more selfish, KBD. Bates-Diop was aggressive in looking for his shot from the very beginning, in stark contrast to last Thursday's game against Purdue. Against the Boilermakers, Bates-Diop was held scoreless in 22 minutes, taking only two shots and grabbing a meager three rebounds. That is not the kind of effort a guy with KBD's length, athleticism, and shooting touch should be producing against a ranked conference opponent. The Bates-Diop that showed up against Penn State is the one the Buckeyes need to compete in the Big Ten.
2.) Changing of the guard? With Harris starting at the point, Ohio State's pace on offense was much quicker, which led to some open looks the team hasn't been seeing lately. The Dayton native scored just four points, but paced the team with four assists and played solid defense. While Lyle has shown flashes of being an impact player throughout the season, his turnovers and inconsistency have plagued the Buckeyes. Both players need to see the floor, which begs the question of whether we will see Matta put them out there together. Perhaps playing off the ball occasionally would loosen Lyle up to be more focused on getting his shot.
3.) Ball security still an issue. While Ohio State seemed to be in control all game long, its failure really put Penn State away was all about being sloppy with the ball. Lazy passing, excessive dribbling, and a lapse in focus once again led to the Buckeyes piling up more turnovers than assists. On this night, with the Nittany Lions shooting the ball so poorly, those miscues did not prove fatal. But if this team wants any prayer of competing come Big Ten tournament time, the ball security issues have to be cleaned up.