With wins against then-No 1. Michigan State and then-No. 3 Purdue, the first season for new Buckeye head coach Chris Holtmann has gone nearly perfectly... nearly. But for one banked three-pointer by Penn State’s Tony Carr, Ohio State could still be undefeated in conference play. After OSU’s Keita Bates-Diop hit an improbable three with five seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 79, Carr one-upped him and banked home the game winner as time expired.
OSU’s lone loss since two days before Christmas, saw five Buckeyes go for double-figures, but the rest of the team only contributed five additional points. On the other end of the floor, the Nittany Lions were unconscious from downtown, hitting 11 of their 14 attempts from behind the arc.
To see if Penn State could recreate the magic they had against the Buckeyes last month, we chatted with Tim Aydin of SB Nation’s Penn State blog, Black Shoe Diaries. You can read the Ohio State half of our conversation over on their site as well.
LGHL: Starting with the win in Columbus late last month, Penn State has won five of six, after going 3-5 over the previous eight. What has Pat Chambers and his stuff done to turn things around in Happy Valley?
BSD: The biggest boost to the team has been hands-down the return of Josh Reaves after an academic-related issue kept him away for most of January. Reaves is the team’s best defensive player and the best all-around player, as he is good for typically scoring in double-figures and garnering a couple of steals. He is also fearless when it comes to taking the ball to the rim, just ask Iowa.
LGHL: Penn State has five guys averaging in double-figures this season (including three sophomores), but after that, no one is above five points per game. If Ohio State can neutralize Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, do the three double-digit sophomores and the bench players have enough to lead PSU to a victory?
BSD: It’s highly unlikely. Case in point being the lone loss during this most recent six-game stretch at Michigan State, only Tone (28) and Lamar (18) reached double-figures scoring in that one, and PSU ultimately lost by eight. They will need at least three, preferably four, guys to hit double figures if they are going to pull off the improbable season sweep (Carr, Stevens, Reaves, and Watkins all scored in double figures in the first meeting between PSU and OSU).
Nazeer Bostick has been the lone reliable source for any bench scoring whatsoever, so that is why it all comes down to at least three of the starters needing to light it up.
LGHL: At 18-9 and some massive games down the stretch, Penn State likely controls its postseason destiny. With games against OSU, Purdue, Michigan, and a tough Nebraska team, what will the Nittany Lions have to do in order to survive that gauntlet and go dancing in March?
BSD: The team will have to bring their A-game every night. By that, I mean Tony Carr and Shep Garner need to be reliable from beyond the arc, Lamar Stevens needs to be a consistent source for scoring and rebounds, Mike Watkins has to be the rebounding, shot-blocking, and inside scoring threat that he’s proven himself to be at times this season, and Josh Reaves needs to continue to bring that energy and defensive tenacity that has helped spark PSU’s 5-1 record since his return to the court.
The lack of any consistent production off the bench makes the starters playing to their full potential that much more imperative; there cannot be any more off-nights from here on forward if this team is going to at least try to split these remaining games.
Realistically, PSU’s best bet at dancing in March is to go 2-2 in their remaining regular season games and then go on a deep run in the Big Ten tournament, probably all the way to the finals. This is how they were able to sneak into the Big Dance back in 2011 with Talor Battle leading the way.
LGHL: This season, Penn State hasn’t shot particularly well from beyond the arc. On the year, they are shooting just 36.3 percent. However, against Ohio State, they went 11-14 (78.6%). Since then, they have shot just 32.3 percent in five games. Was their barrage from deep in Columbus just a fluke, or was there something about OSU’s defense that allowed them to get that hot that they might be able to replicate?
BSD: Although I can safely predict Penn State will not shoot that well from behind the arc again, it may be a tad disingenuous to call their hot shooting a “fluke.” Even if the percentages haven’t been all that great, you can typically count on either Tony Carr or Shep Garner (or in the case of the first meeting between PSU and OSU, both) to be feeling it from downtown in any given game.
Without having watched a full replay of the game, perhaps OSU didn’t employ zone defense, which PSU has had trouble at times trying to figure out. Whatever defensive strategy was used in the first game though, I would be willing to bet they will scrap it for something different.
LGHL: What do you think will happen in the game?
BSD: Given that PSU will be coming into the game knowing they can still continuing playing their way onto the NCAA tournament bubble and subsequently, play their way into the tournament itself, expect the Lions to come out firing from the get-go. That being said, the Buckeyes’ improved bench production combined with the lack of reliable scoring off the bench for the Lions will ultimately put them over the top. Besides, there’s no way PSU shoots 11-for-14 from downtown again...right?