The old saying goes, “It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season.” Well, the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions (21-12, 9-9) did just that against the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (24-7, 15-3). The third victory came in the Big Ten Tournament, by a score of 69-68. After winningat the buzzer in January, and then blowing the Buckeyes out last month, PSU completed the season sweep at Madison Square Garden, and gave themselves another impressive notch on their NCAA Tournament resume.
While it was a big of a slugfest for the majority of the game, as it came down to the wire, the best player on each team began to take control. Both Penn State’s Tony Carr and Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop showed why they are two of the best players in the conference, and in the country. The star players each turned in a game-high 25 points.
Earlier in the week, PSU head coach Pat Chambers announced that 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Mike Watkins would be unavailable for the B1G Tournament as he dealt with a knee injury. His absence should seemingly have allowed a bigger OSU team to impose their will in the paint, but that was not the case.
The Buckeye offense went through Kaleb Wesson early on, as the freshman took OSU’s first two shots (making one), and got the assist to a streaking Bates-Diop in the lane. From there, the Ohio State offense got a little sloppy as they continued to focus in the lane. Jae’Sean Tate and Bates-Diop both missed shots in the paint.
The Buckeyes already were a bit careless with the ball early on as well. Kaleb Wesson put a little too much behind an entry pass to KBD, as it hit the rim and was rebounded by PSU. Then, Tate dribbled through the lane, and as he was turning to head back to the top of the key, he dribbled off of his foot, leading to a Penn State dunk for Lamar Stevens. After the second-seeded Buckeyes opened the game with the first two baskets, the Nittany Lions went on a 9-0 run heading into the first media timeout.
After Shep Garner hit a three-pointer from Staten Island, Andre Wesson broke the Buckeye scoreless streak, and after Micah Potter got a steal on the defensive end, he found Tate on the fastbreak, and the Buckeyes had suddenly cut the lead to just 12-9. On the next possession, Potter deflected a pass, and then blocked a Stevens layup attempt to force a shot-clock violation.
Making the most of his playing time, Potter knotted the game at 12 with a triple after a media timeout, then the Buckeye defense forces a backcourt violation, and C.J. Jackson made it count with a three-pointer of his own; two possessions later, Kam Williams hit one from downtown as well. An underhanded layup by Andrew Dakich put the Buckeyes on a 14-3 run.
From the opening tip, the Buckeyes played with an incredible amount of energy. While that allowed them to go on a 20-6 run, it also led to some missed opportunities and some overcommitments on defense. That manic energy resulted in a 28-28 tie with 4:00 left in the first half. While all eight of the Buckeyes that had seen the floor in the first half had hit at least one bucket, Stevens (12) and Carr (14) had combined for 26 of PSU’s 33 points. The Nittany Lions led the game 33-32 after the first half.
One of the areas in which Ohio State’s over eagerness proved to be a problem was that they were often not in position to rebound on the defensive end. In the first half, PSU had already collected nine offensive rebounds, leading to 14 second-chance points.
At the break, Bates-Diop (8) and Tate (7) were the only Buckeyes with more than three points. However, Ohio State was out shooting the Nittany Lions from the field, 41.4 percent to 37.5. The Buckeye bench outscored their PSU counterparts 8-1, but other than that, most of the stats were fairly close, as evidenced by the one-point score.
The second half opened like much of the first half, OSU missed a layup—this time it was Tate—but the Buckeye senior got his own board, along with the hoop and the harm. The free throw put Ohio State up 35-32.
However from there, the Nittany Lions went on an 8-0 run, as the Buckeyes missed shots (including more layups), put it up unnecessarily early in the shot-clock, and mishandled the ball. With Watkins out of the game, Chambers played four guards for a large portion of the game, creating significant match-up issues for the Buckeyes on defense.
With OSU struggling on offense, Penn State took advantage going on a nearly-seven minute, 12-2 run before Bates-Diop took it strong to the hoop and completed the old-fashioned three-point play. Garner got a triple and a layup during that span, and almost nothing worked for the OSU offense, while nearly everything did for Penn State.
However, with KBD’s basket, the momentum began to swing just a bit. After a Kaleb Wesson second-chance basket, Bates-Diop threw down a monstrous dunk, and Dakich got a hustle steal in the backcourt before calling timeout from the ground with OSU down 46-44.
After the break, Kaleb Wesson found Williams on a back-cut, and the senior finished with a nifty reverse layup to tie the game. However, Garner got a three on the subsequent possession to get into double-figures.
The action kept going as the younger Wesson tipped the offensive rebound to Dakich, who quickly got it to KBD who hit a straight-away three to even the game at 49. Then, the Big Ten Player of the Year stole the ball from Josh Reaves around mid-court, and was fouled in the process. For the first time since perhaps late-January, Bates-Diop was beginning to take over a game on both ends of the floor.
Undeterred by KBD’s emergence, Carr, who has dominated OSU all season, began to assert himself as well. With 8:39 remaining in the game, he hit a pair of free-throws to get to 21 points— one more than his season average.
On the next offensive possession, Tate was whistled for a reckless foul, his fourth of the game; he would return to the bench. With his fellow veteran leader out of the game, KBD continued to impose his will. After missing a shot in the lane, he tipped the rebound back in. Then on the next PSU possession, he blocked a Carr layup attempt, and then Jackson found him behind the arc for a three-pointer that tied the game at 57 with 5:25 remaining.
After Tate’s bucket opened the second 20 minutes, Bates-Diop scored 13 of the Buckeyes next 20 points, keeping them in the game. After a Jackson rebound, Williams hit his own triple, giving the Buckeyes their first lead since the 19:37 point of half. Carr matched it with a banked three-pointer of his own on the next trip down the floor, but Williams answered immediately giving the lead back to the Buckeyes. With just over four minutes remaining, the there had already been 10 ties and six lead changes in the game.
Despite stretches of sloppy, uninspiring basketball in the first 30 minutes of the contest, the final 10 minutes of regulation found an extra level of intensity and execution, as both teams began hitting shots and causing havoc on the defensive end.
After back-to-back baskets by Bates-Diop, the PoY picked up his first foul contesting a Carr attempt in the lane. The Nittany Lion hit one of two free-throws to get the game to 68-65 in favor of the Buckeyes.
With less than 25 seconds remaining, KBD had the ball stolen, leading to Carr finding a streaking Reaves who slammed it home to put PSU up 69-68. Then with time running out, Carr was credited with a block of a Jackson three-attempt that never got close to the basket.
For the Buckeyes, they will now have nearly two weeks to rest and prepare for the NCAA Tournament. While not winning a game in the conference tourney, and falling to PSU three times in one season is certainly not the way that Chris Holtmann would have liked to get his team ready for the Big Dance, the second half did see the reemergence of Bates-Diop as a game-defining player; something that OSU will need come March Madness.
Tate and Williams each ended the game with 10 points for the Buckeyes, while Stevens had 15 and Garner had 13 for Penn State. OSU shot far better than the Nittany Lions (44.1% vs. 37.9%), but an 18-11 edge in second-chance points helped tilt the contest in PSU’s direction.
On Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, Penn State will take on the winner of the No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 14 Rutgers quarterfinal matchup. That game will be broadcast on CBS.