Just as Ohio State football is wrapping up its conference slate with the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis tonight, sixth-ranked Ohio State basketball is tipping off Big Ten play against Penn State today. The Buckeyes are riding high after overthrowing No. 7 North Carolina 74-49 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Wednesday in Chapel Hill in their first away game of the season.
The Buckeyes first grabbed the national spotlight with their overthrow of then-No. 10 Villanova earlier this season. Heading into the AP Poll top 10 themselves, the Buckeyes followed up with four more non-conference wins, allowing no more than 57 points defensively in any matchup. Perhaps more impressive, Ohio State held Roy Williams and North Carolina to the Buckeyes’ second-lowest point total allowed this season (Purdue Fort Wayne scored just 46 points).
Now, Ohio State is sitting at 8-0 on the season, and is looking to continue the trend against the Nittany Lions today at noon at Value City Arena.
In all, the Big Ten went 8-6 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, demonstrating that (1) it is a deep conference which will be highly-competitive on the national scale and (2) the Buckeyes will have some stiff competition with conference play opening today.
In Ohio State’s matchup, following a tight first half after which the Buckeyes led 29-27, Chris Holtmann’s squad shot lights out in the second half to give North Carolina its worst home loss ever under Roy Williams.
Sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. led the way with 18 points on the night in his best scoring game of the season. Washington connected on 6-of-15 field goals, including four from range, and added five rebounds and two assists to his stat line. Freshman forward E.J. Liddell added 12 points from the bench, while junior forward Kaleb Wesson and junior guard C.J. Walker each added 10 of their own. Senior forward Andre Wesson had nine rebounds and five assists in the matchup. In all, eight players scored for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes had 25 points off the bench.
In all, the Buckeyes shot greater than 46% on the night, including 38.5% from range. However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story, as Ohio State found its rhythm and shot 54% from the field in the second half. Ohio State had 17 assists, and outrebounded the Tar Heels 48-32. While the 76 total points scored was on the low end of the Buckeyes’ offensive production this season, the 25-point win was Ohio State’s sixth victory by 20-plus points this year.
Defensively, the Buckeyes continued their strong early season run, holding North Carolina to 27.4% from the floor and just 17 field goals, including seven three-pointers. Unfortunately, Ohio State had a negative turnover margin on the evening, coughing up the ball 15 times while getting just 10 from North Carolina.
On the other hand, Ohio State also connected on 12-of-15 free throws on the night, which is good news considering the Buckeyes struggled from the charity stripe earlier this season.
With a strong offense with several emerging scoring leaders, a stingy defense and two 25-point wins over top 10 teams already this season, things are definitely looking up for Ohio State as the Buckeyes prepare for the start of conference play this afternoon with Penn State.
Ohio State faced Penn State just once last season, earning a 74-70 win in Columbus. In that matchup, Luther Muhammad had 20 points while Andre Wesson added 15 of his own, but the real story came from Kyle Young, who scored a crucial two-pointer with just over a minute left to put the Buckeyes up 71-70 late. The win was a massive rebound for the Buckeyes, who’d fallen to Penn State in all three meetings during the 2017-18 season, including in the Big Ten Tournament.
Last season, the Nittany Lions finished 10th in the conference standings with a 14-18 overall record, including a 7-13 mark in conference play. This season, Penn State was picked to finish 9th in the Big Ten’s preseason media poll as the team looks for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.
On the court, senior forward Lamar Stevens, a first team All-Big Ten honoree from last season, has once again emerged as a leader for this Penn State squad. In the 2018-19 campaign, Stevens averaged nearly 20 points and eight rebounds per game. The senior isn’t too far behind this season, putting up 17.5 points -- a team high -- and 7.9 rebounds per outing.
The Nittany Lions are led by head coach Pat Chambers, who has been at the helm at Penn State since the 2011-12 season. Throughout his tenure, Chambers’ Penn State teams have never finished higher than 10th in the Big Ten Standings, with the exception of the 2017-18 season when the Nittany Lions were NIT champs. In all, Chambers has amassed a 134-141 overall record and has never brought Penn State to the NCAA Tournament, but he and the Nittany Lions are off to a hot start this season
Chambers and company are sitting at 7-1 on the young season. In fact, Penn State’s only loss on the season came in a narrow, 74-72 defeat to Ole Miss this season, but the Nittany Lions have been winners of two straight over Syracuse and Wake Forest (the latter in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge earlier this week).
In that matchup, Penn State defeated the Demon Deacons by a score of 76-54. Sophomore guard Myreon Jones recorded a career-high 22 points, while Stevens and sophomore guard Izaiah Brockington also scored in double digits on the night.
Overall, Penn State shot 44.1% from the field while holding Wake Forest to just 29.3% shooting. However, the Nittany Lions struggled from range, connecting on just 5-of-28 three-point attempts. Penn State outrebounded the Demon Deacons 52-33 and gave up 14 turnovers to Wake’s 20.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 75.1%
Yes, it is still very early, but the Buckeyes are very much looking like one of the top teams in the country. Especially given their success against top opponents from two top conferences, Ohio State certainly would seem to be set up for success as the team heads into conference play today.
That being said, the Big Ten looks formidable, perhaps even the best conference in college basketball this year. The Buckeyes will need to continue firing on all cylinders as they prepare for Penn State today. While the Nittany Lions have not been a traditional basketball power in the conference, generally finishing in the bottom half of the conference standings each season, Penn State is off to a good start already this season.
Penn State is returning a veteran squad to the floor this season. In addition to Stevens, junior guard Myles Dread, senior forward Mike Watkins and junior guard Jamari Wheeler were all significant contributors from last year’s team. The Nittany Lions also brought on two transfers, including Brockington and senior guard Curtis Jones, in the offseason.
Through eight games, the Nittany Lions have boasted a potent scoring offense, averaging 80.6 points per game. Ohio State’s defense, meanwhile, is among the best in the country. The Buckeyes are allowing a mere 52.3 points per game, good for fourth in the NCAA.
While the matchup looks to favor Ohio State, the Buckeyes are preparing for the start of a long conference season. And after a big win over North Carolina on the road, they’ll need to avoid a hangover when they face the Nittany Lions tonight.