INDIANAPOLIS -- With the winner set to get Michigan State (26-5) at 6:30 p.m. in Friday's third quarterfinal, the 2016 Big Ten Tournament's third game of its second day lived up to its two predecessors. Despite a very game Nittany Lions side, Thad Matta's Ohio State Buckeyes were able to win their 20th game of the season and survive to see another day.
JaQuan Lyle was sensational for the Buckeyes, putting up 22 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a block while committing just two turnovers. The freshman point guard also hit four of six free throws in the final 30 seconds of the game, and even aided the officials in mopping up perspiration with some towels in the closing minutes.
"I feel like I can get the rack and score pretty much every time," Lyle said.
Marc Loving was outstanding as well, notching 25 points. The junior swingman hit 13 of his 15 free throws and added four rebounds and two blocks.
To begin the game, the Nittany Lions started fast behind Brandon Taylor. The senior scored eight of Penn State's first 10 points to propel his squad to an early 10-8 advantage. After Ohio State rallied to tie the game at 14, the Buckeyes pulled ahead 18-15 on a lob from Lyle to Trevor Thompson. The Nittany Lions answered with a rally of their own, and went up 25-18 on a transition 3-pointer from Taylor.
Penn State stretched out that lead to 35-25 at the under-4 media timeout, hitting 7-of-11 from 3 and generally exerting more effort than the Buckeyes. But Ohio State pushed back, as a transition layup by Lyle off a feed from Keita Bates-Diop forced a timeout by the Nittany Lions with 2:01 left in the half and the Buckeyes trailing 35-31. A triple from Loving crept Ohio State to within one at 35-34. The Buckeyes trailed at half 37-34.
Loving led all scorers with 13 points at the half, doing most of his damage at the foul line by hitting 8-of-9 freebies. Bates-Diop added seven points and Lyle had six points and six rebounds for Ohio State, which shot 36 percent (11-of-31, 1-of-6 from 3) through the first 20 minutes. The Buckeyes were 11-of-17 from the charity stripe and doubled up Penn State (28-14) on the glass, with 11 of those rebounds of the offensive variety.
Taylor and Shep Garner each scored 12 points for Penn State, which canned 14 of its 27 field goal attempts in the first half. Both teams turned the ball over six times.
Ohio State quickly regained the lead to start the second half. A Lyle steal turned into a Lyle and-1, with a Loving three on the next possession lifting the Buckeyes ahead 40-39. A few minutes later, Loving drilled another triple in front of the Ohio State bench, forcing a Penn State timeout with 17:00 left on the block and the Buckeyes in front 45-39.
Less than a minute later, Bates-Diop enhanced his team's lead to nine with a 3-pointer off a nice dish from Trevor Thompson. But, the Nittany Lions failed to fold, and Ohio State led 48-45 at the under-16 timeout. Even when they failed to score, the Buckeyes -- spurred by Lyle's play-making -- continued to find openings in Penn State's defense. Four straight points from Thompson had Ohio State up 56-49 at the under-12 timeout.
The teams played evenly over the next eight minutes before the Nittany Lions embarked on a mini-spurt. Garner sank a pair of free throws with 5:11 remaining to cut the Buckeyes' lead to 63-62. Kam Williams answered with a three, but Penn State came right back with a triple from Payton Banks and two free throws from Garner to crawl back in front 67-66.
Three Loving free throws over two trips up the court helped Ohio State reclaim the lead. An ill-timed NBA 3-point attempt by Garner gave the Buckeyes the window they needed to give themselves some room to breathe and Lyle did the rest, extending the Ohio State lead to 71-67.
An empty trip down the court for Penn State again and a continued control of the glass by Ohio State helped it to expand the lead to six. The timely 7-0 run assisted the Buckeyes in expanding things to 73-67 -- and they never looked back.
A few controversial calls (and non-calls) made the final minute-plus stretch on, but as both teams traded free throws, even with an extremely late 3-pointer by Garner to narrow things to 78-75, Ohio State was ultimately able to prevail.
For Penn State, Garner finished with a game-high 25 points and added five rebounds and five assists. Donovan Jack contributed 18 points and five boards off the bench.
3 things we learned
1. Slowly but surely, Penn State's basketball program is becoming respectable. The Nittany Lions were 7-11 in conference play, the most Big Ten wins they've had under fourth-year coach Patrick Chambers. Penn State, which has two NCAA Tournament appearances (2001, 2011) since 2000, has also finished the regular season with records above .500 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1994-96. Next year, the Nittany Lions will return Garner, the team's second-leading scorer and top assist man, as well as Banks and Josh Reaves, the team's third and fourth-leading scorers.
The program is also set to receive a talent injection in the form of a Class of 2016 recruiting class ranked third in the Big Ten and 17th in the country by 247Sports. Point guard Tony Carr and small forward Lamar Stevens, a pair of four-star prospects from Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, headline the four-man class. Terrence Samuel, a transfer from Connecticut who played in 65 games for the Huskies from 2013-15, will have two years of eligibility remaining starting with the 2016-17 campaign.
2. Marc Loving and JaQuan Lyle stepped up when Ohio State needed them the most. Loving didn't have his shot going in the first half, but he went to the free-throw line nine times and was involved in the offense. Lyle found his footing as the first half wore on and then hit a groove in the second half, slicing up Penn State's defense with strong dribble drives and on-target passes to shooters and cutters. Lyle used his 6-5, 230-pound frame to bully his way to the rim on multiple occasions.
3. Ohio State's NCAA Tournament dreams are alive...barely. And the Buckeyes' reward? For the third time in 18 days, they will take on Michigan State. The Spartans, who have won six straight games and 10 of 11 overall, topped Ohio State by an average of 17 points in the first two meetings.
"We’ve got to continue to grow," Matta said of his squad, which had a total of just nine games of Big Ten Tournament experience entering Thursday. "That’s probably been the biggest challenge with this team is continuing to make strides and finding consistency throughout the week of what we’re getting."
The Buckeyes started Thursday as one of Joe Lunardi's "Next Four Out", and they'll need an improbable upset of the Spartans to have any hope of another NCAA Tournament berth.