Ohio State has defied expectations in Chris Holtmann’s first season in charge in Columbus, but the Buckeyes still have work to do. Ohio State enters the Big Ten Tournament as the two-seed, and they’ll try and exorcise some demons tonight, as they’ll be facing a Penn State team that handed the Buckeyes two of their three conference losses this year. The winner of tonight’s third Quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden will move on to face the winner of the matchup between Rutgers and Purdue, which will tip-off 30 minutes after Ohio State and Penn State ends.
The Buckeyes were last in action a week ago, earning a thrilling 80-78 double overtime win against Indiana in Bloomington. Ohio State looked like they might be headed to their third loss in four games when Juwan Morgan scored with seven seconds left in double overtime to give the Hoosiers a 78-77, but C.J. Jackson quieted Assembly Hall with a three-pointer at the buzzer to give Ohio State a regular season sweep of Indiana.
Keita Bates-Diop capped off Ohio State’s regular season with another monster performance, scoring 24 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, and blocking four shots. On Monday, Bates-Diop was named the Big Ten Player of the Year, becoming the sixth Buckeye to take home those honors, and first since Evan Turner in 2010. Bates-Diop was also named First Team All-Big Ten, an honor that last was earned by D’Angelo Russell in 2015.
Bates-Diop wasn’t the only Buckeye to be honored earlier this week, as Chris Holtmann was named Big Ten Coach of the Year, after posting a 24-7 record in his first year in Columbus. The former Butler coach truly did a remarkable job transforming an Ohio State team that was projected by many to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten this year. Holtmann was named Big South Coach of the Year in 2013 with Gardner-Webb, and last year was Big East Coach of the Year for the work he did with Butler.
Now the Buckeyes will face a Penn State team who was Ohio State’s kryptonite during the regular season. Ohio State and Penn State looked like they might be headed to overtime in their Jan. 25 meeting in Columbus, but Tony Carr’s three-pointer at the buzzer not only gave the Nittany Lions the win, but it also was Ohio State’s first conference loss of the year. Penn State didn’t need any late heroics a few weeks later, dominating the Buckeyes in State College 79-56.
Northwestern gave Penn State a challenge in their Second Round matchup on Thursday night, but the Nittany Lions took the lead for good with just over four minutes to go in the second half. Tony Carr hit six three-pointers in the victory, and scored a team-high 25 points in the win. Josh Reaves added 15 points for the Nittany Lions, while Shep Garner was the third Penn State player in double figures, finishing with 12 points.
The Nittany Lions are likely going to need a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament to get back into consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid. During the season, Penn State won six of seven contests, starting with the win over Ohio State in late January, but a three-game losing streak to close out the regular season could cost the Nittany Lions their first NCAA Tournament bid under head coach Patrick Chambers.
Numbers to know
With a 26-13 all-time record in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State has the best all-time winning percentage since the tournament’s inception in 1998. The Buckeyes’ winning percentage would be even higher if their 2002 Big Ten Tournament run, where Ohio State won all three games they played, hadn’t been vacated. Michigan State sits just behind Ohio State, with their 28-15 record, which equates to a .651 winning percentage.
The Buckeyes have only entered the Big Ten Tournament as the two-seed on one other occasion, but Ohio State made the most of it, winning all three of their games in 2013. Ohio State defeated Nebraska 71-50 in their first game in Chicago, and followed the win over the Cornhuskers up with a 61-58 win over Michigan State, before taking home their last Big Ten Tournament title with a 50-43 win over Wisconsin. Point guard Aaron Craft was named MVP of the tournament.
With 15 points in the win over Indiana last week, Kam Williams became the 56th Buckeye to reach 1,000 points in his career. Following a three-game suspension, Williams struggled in his first two games back on the floor, scoring just six total points in losses to Penn State and Michigan. The senior found his scoring touch in the final two games, scoring 12 points against Rutgers, before his output against the Hoosiers. Williams now has 1,006 career points, which places him 55th in school history, and just one point from tying Chris Jent for 54th all-time.
Cast of characters
What more can be said about the sensational redshirt junior? With his 24 points, 14 rebound performance against Indiana, Bates-Diop registered his 12th double-double of the year, with Ohio State posting a 11-1 record in those games. Bates-Diop now sits 38th all-time on Ohio State’s scoring list with 1,195 points. Luke Witte is ahead of Bates-Diop in 37th with 1,211 points, and John Havlicek sits in 36th with 1,223 career points. Bates-Diop scored 25 points in the first meeting with Penn State, but struggled in the second matchup, scoring just 10 points.
The senior will look to close out his Ohio State career with deep runs in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. In the win over Indiana, Tate tied a career-high with six assists, while adding 12 points and five rebounds. Earlier this week, Tate was named Second Team All-Big Ten by the coaches, while the media named Tate Big Ten Honorable Mention. The Pickerington native is on the brink of moving into Ohio State’s Top 20 all-time in scoring, sitting 15 points from tying Jerry Francis for 20th all-time.
With a strong close to the regular season, the sophomore moved ahead of Keita Bates-Diop for the Big Ten scoring lead. Carr finished the regular season averaging 19.9 points per game. Including Thursday night’s 25 point performance, Carr has now scored at least 20 points in four of his last five games, with the only game he didn’t hit that marking coming against Purdue, where he finished with 19 points. Carr is a threat from behind the arc, as he hit four three-pointers in each of the two previous meetings with Ohio State this year.
If Mike Watkins isn’t able to play tonight, Penn State is going to need a big game out of the sophomore forward. Stevens struggled in the win over Northwestern last night, hitting just two of his 12 shot attempts. The Buckeyes can’t expect those struggles to last long though, as last night’s performance was just the fourth time since the beginning of December in which Stevens failed to reach double figures in scoring.
How to watch:
Game time: 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM
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