Where did that come from?
It’s a question plenty of Ohio State basketball fans are asking themselves in the wake of the Buckeyes’ convincing win over No. 16 Wisconsin on Thursday night. Leading by as much as 20 at one point in the second half, Thad Matta’s team eventually closed out a 10-point victory over a Badger squad that shellacked them the first time they met this season.
The win broke a three-game skid for the Buckeyes, who have struggled to muster a consistent offense all year. (In their last loss, to Nebraska, Ohio State managed just 57 total points. They had 44 by halftime against Wisconsin.) The outburst was all the more surprising given the quality of the opponent: Wisconsin is far from a perfect team, but they came into the game with the No. 4 defense in the country; the Buckeyes were just the second team to crack 80 points against the Badgers all season.
It doesn’t erase the shortcomings of the program up to this point, but the resounding win does raise an important question: is this a blip, or a sign of things to come?
Tuesday’s showdown against the Penn State Nittany Lions (14-15, 11th in the Big Ten) will be our first indicator of which direction the program is leaning. It’s a game that the Buckeyes should absolutely win, even if it won’t save their season. The Nittany Lions have dropped three straight games, most recently on the road against Minnesota.
In their last four contests, Ohio State is a clean 4-0 against Penn State. Two of those wins were by 20 points. It’s safe to say that Thad Matta has Pat Chambers’ number. Let’s hope his team doesn’t take their foot off the gas just yet.
Numbers to know
That’s how many fouls Trevor Thompson averages per game, but that total accounts for Thad having to pull him once he starts getting whistled. Per 40 minutes, that number jumps all the way up to 6.0. Given that Thompson is the most efficient offensive player on the roster, it’s worth paying attention to the very short leash given to him by the referees.
Jae’Sean Tate, who has injected some serious life into an otherwise lackluster Buckeye season, also happens to be the worst free throw shooter in the starting lineup. As Ohio State’s premier offensive player, he goes to the line more than anyone else on the team (4.5 attempts/game). If this game is tight late, hope that the Nittany Lions foul someone else.
One of the only things the Buckeyes have done consistently well this season is rebound. They’re pulling down 38 of them a game, led by Trevor Thompson’s 9.1 average. That puts him less than one board away from averaging a double-double, if you want an indicator of just how much he contributes to the team.
Cast of characters
Jackson is coming off of his best game as a Buckeye, notching 18 points (including 4-4 from 3-point range) against Wisconsin. His transformation from a reliable bench player to a much-needed starter has been a fun one to watch, and while his shooting performance on Thursday was well beyond what his average would predict, it could be a sign of things to come for the sophomore guard.
The Buckeye big man is having the best season of his college career. He’s become an integral piece of the Ohio State offense, as well as a huge contributor in the rebounding department. They’ll need Thompson to have another big game against Penn State, who get a lot of key minutes from 6’9 power forward Mike Watkins, the team’s most efficient shooter and no slouch at rebounding himself.
Carr, a 6’3 freshman guard, is the Nittany Lions’ leading scorer this year. He’s coming off of back-to-back 20+ point performances, and if Penn State is going to generate any kind of offense against Ohio State’s stingy defense, it’ll be on Carr’s shoulders.
Penn State is leaning heavily on their freshmen this year. Watkins, in his first season of college basketball, has seized the role of the Nittany Lions’ most important big man. The team keeps him in a rotation—he averages just shy of 23 minutes a game—but he’s carved out an important niche nevertheless. Look for a good matchup between Watkins and Trevor Thompson in this one.
How to watch
Game time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 FM
TV: Big Ten Network