Ohio State (14-7, 4-6) was able to avenge a previous loss when they defeated Rutgers at home in their last time out after falling to the Scarlet Knights on the road last month. The Buckeyes will look to use that win to spark some momentum when they take on a struggling Penn State (8-14, 1-10) on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. EST. The Big Ten tilt, taking place at Value City Arena in Columbus, will be broadcast on ESPN.
The Buckeyes finally got the old Kaleb Wesson back on Saturday when they took down Rutgers 76-62, their second win in their last three games. The sophomore big man put up 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-4 from deep, while adding five assists and four rebounds. Most importantly, Wesson was able to stay out of foul trouble, recording only two personal fouls while playing a season-high 38 minutes. The 27 points were the second-most Wesson has scored in a game this season, behind only his 31 against Youngstown State, as he helped Ohio State get some revenge for their earlier 64-61 loss to the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway.
While Wesson was the star of the show, Chris Holtmann got some good production from his supporting cast as well. C.J. Jackson played one of his better games of the season, scoring 20 points to go along with seven rebounds and three assists, while Luther Muhammad continued his efficient scoring with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting — all from deep. As a team, Ohio State turned the ball over just six times while forcing 12 Rutgers turnovers and held the Scarlet Knights to under 44 percent from the field. Their efficiency with the basketball allowed them to come away with the double-digit victory despite being out-rebounded 36-25.
After losing five in a row, Ohio State has been able to find more success lately, winning two of their last three games, with the lone loss coming against Michigan on the road — one of the best teams in the country. Part of their improved play of late can be attributed to a game plan that focuses less on forcing the ball down low to Kaleb Wesson, instead relying on moving the ball and creating opportunities for other guys to make open shots. One guy that has stepped up big is Muhammad, who has scored in double-digits in three of the last four games. The freshman guard has not shot a ton, but when he has he has been extremely effective, hitting nine of his last 15 from three-point range.
The Buckeyes are at the beginning of an important stretch, as they will take on three-straight Big Ten opponents with losing conference records before a rematch with Michigan State. They will likely still be without Kyle Young, who continues to nurse a stress fracture in his right leg. As they have done in the previous four games in Young’s absence, they will look to fill the void with guys like Jaedon LeDee and Justin Ahrens, while giving increased minutes to Musa Jallow.
After finishing 9-9 in Big Ten play a season ago and placing sixth in the conference, the Nittany Lions have taken quite a step back as they have already lost 10 conference games this season and find themselves dead last in the Big Ten. Their lone B1G win this season was actually in their last time out, when they defeated Northwestern 59-52 in a low-scoring, gritty road win. Before their victory over the Wildcats, Penn State had lost eight-straight games, their longest losing streak in six years.
As he has been all season, Lamar Stevens was the star for PSU against Northwestern. The junior forward scored a team-high 18 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists as he knocked down 8-of-10 attempts at the free throw line. Rasir Bolton added another 14 points for the Nittany Lions, but was extremely inefficient from the field, hitting just 3-of-14 attempts. Unsurprisingly based on the final scored, neither team shot well at all in the game, with Penn State hitting at about a 38 percent clip and the Wildcats and paltry 32 percent.
Stevens has been one of the Nittany Lions’ lone bright spots this season, averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. His scoring numbers are up from a year ago, when he averaged 15.5 points per game, however his shooting percentage has dipped a little, going from around 47 percent a year ago to under 42 percent this season. Bolton, the freshman guard, is the only other player averaging double-digit points for Penn State this season (11.8 PPG). Redshirt junior Mike Watkins, someone who has given Ohio State some trouble in the past, needs just six more blocks to move into the No. 2 spot in Penn State history, currently sitting at 185 career rejections.
The Nittany Lions lost a ton of last season’s production with departure of Tony Carr, who chose to begin his professional basketball career by signing overseas. Carr averaged nearly 20 points per game last year to lead the team. The biggest problem areas for Penn State this season have been three-point shooting and free throws. Hitting just 64 percent from the charity stripe ranks the Nittany Lions 11th in the conference, while their 28 percent from deep ranks second-worst. One area that PSU beats out the Buckeyes is in rebounding, where their 36.8 boards is good for sixth in the Big Ten (OSU ranks 11th with 34.8).
ESPN BPI: OSU 81%
Vegas Line: OSU -7.5 (as of Wednesday night)
Ohio State fans likely remember last season’s series against Penn State, which ended with the Nittany Lions sweeping all three games, including a half-court buzzer-beater on the Buckeyes’ home floor and a PSU win in the quarterfinal match of the Big Ten Tournament. Although Penn State took all three games last season, the last 10 games between the two conference opponents are actually evenly split, with Ohio State winning five in a row following two wins by the Nittany Lions in the 2013-14 season.
This year’s Penn State squad is very different from the one that defeated the Buckeyes a trio of times last season. The main difference is the absence of Tony Carr, who had career games against Ohio State seemingly every time the two teams met. However, the same could be said about this Buckeyes team, who have lost the scoring of Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate from a year ago. More or less, these two Big Ten teams are also entirely different.
This season, these two teams will meet just once in the regular season. This time, Ohio State will have the edge. Penn State will likely look to try and get Kaleb Wesson into foul trouble early on by throwing Watkins at him, but hopefully Wesson will be able to take what he learned against Rutgers and duplicate it against the Nittany Lions. With a more efficient offense and a focus on avoiding turnovers against a decent Penn State defense, the Buckeyes will come out on top as they kick-off what should be three very winnable games on Ohio State’s schedule.