After a hellacious January, which saw the Ohio State Buckeyes (15-7, 5-6) lose six of seven games, Chris Holtmann’s squad has now opened up February with a pair of wins, following their 74-70 home victory on Thursday night over the Penn State Nittany Lions (8-15, 1-11).
Much sooner than anticipated, Kyle Young returned to the lineup just 16 days after it was announced that he had suffered a stress fracture. In the first half, Young seemed to have two-plus weeks of pent up energy that he brought to the court. While Young brought the energy in the first half, Luther Muhammad had one of his best games as a Buckeye. In the second half, you could almost see the highly-recruited freshman become a team leader right in front of your eyes.
Also, early in the first half, Urban Meyer and the Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion football team were honored in front of an appreciative crowd.
In an unexpected turn, the game opened with Penn State winning the tip, but on the initial possession, OSU’s C.J. Jackson blocked a layup attempt from freshman guard Myles Dread. That was about the only thing that went the home team in the opening minutes. Despite an Andre Wesson mid-range jumper, the Buckeyes gave up three turnovers in less than three minutes, which led to five of PSU’s first eight points; all scored by Josh Reaves.
However, after an old-fashioned three-point play from Reaves opened up an 8-2 lead, Muhammad hit a jumper and Jackson connected from long-range. Then, coming out of the first media timeout, Andre Wesson connected on two free throws, then Muhammad did the same to put OSU up 11-8 after a 9-0 run.
After the free throws, Young entered the game for the first time since the injury, and on his first defensive possession, collected a rebound. Of course, he then immediately turned it over, but it was still a good effort for a guy fresh off of a stress fracture.
That early rebound wasn’t the only instance of Young’s presence providing dividends early. Apparently unafraid of reinjuring his leg, he quickly as on the floor diving for a ball, blocking shots, and pulling in boards to either begin or extend possessions.
With just under 11 minutes, on what appeared to be a somewhat broken play, Kaleb Wesson delivered a nifty no-look pass to Jackson for a bunny to put OSU up 17-9. On the next offensive trip, the younger Wesson hit a straight-away three to put the Buckeyes up 23-9, capping a 21-1 run. On the next PSU possession, Mike Watkins hit the Lions’ first field goal in over eight minutes.
At the 8:12 mark, Kaleb Wesson picked up his second personal and headed to the bench. Having Young back, and seemingly playing as well as ever, certainly helped keep the Buckeye front court stable.
With 3:32 remaining, Muhammad found Andre Wesson in the corner, and the junior forward hit from downtown giving OSU a 31-20 advantage, then following a Watkins dunk, Young got his first bucket of the game heading into the under-four minute timeout.
As the first half was winding down, PSU put on a bit of run thanks to some sloppy play by the Buckeye guards. Jabari Wheeler had steals on three consecutive possessions, cutting the Buckeye advantage to just 34-31 at halftime.
Despite OSU being up by as many as 15 in the first half, the Nittany Lions closed the half on an 11-1 run to make it a one-possession game to open the second half.
The first half saw Ohio State take significant advantages in just about every statistical category, except for one that has been a problem all season: turnovers. From the floor, OSU shot 48 percent (12-25), and actually was better from distance (50%, 5-10). The Nittany Lions were shooting just 39.3 percent (11-28) and 28.6 (2-7) from behind the arc.
The home team also was out rebounding PSU 21-10, but the Buckeyes’ 12 turnovers (compared to PSU’s six) helped erase OSU’s double-digit lead. The Lions turned those takeaways into 13 points, many of them resulting in their 10 fast break points.
As the first half ended and the second half began, players from both teams began slipping on the Value City Arena floor. With the hockey ice under the playing floor, and a rainy and humid day in Columbus, condensation was making its way to the playing surface. Athletic director Gene Smith was on the court during halftime, and reports from the arena indicated that they cranked up the air conditioning to hopefully keep the floor dry.
Back in action after the break, the second 20 minutes opened roughly for both teams, but the Buckeyes strung together a 7-0 run to increase their lead to 46-37. However, from there, the officials called four fouls against the Buckeyes in a span of 26 seconds of game time, all on a single defensive possession.
On the offensive side of the ball, Penn State coach Pat Chambers went to Ohio State’s least favorite defense, the 2-3 zone. As it has throughout the season, the defensive shift nearly completely shut down OSU offensively.
After a three-pointer from Rasir Bolton, PSU was within one triple, down 46-43. After a Keyshawn Woods turnover and then missed jumper early in the shot clock, John Harrar slammed it home for Penn State to put the OSU lead at a single point.
However, on the dunk, Young picked up his fourth foul, sending him to the bench. Kaleb Wesson — who had three fouls — came back into the game for the Buckeyes. The big man’s presence didn’t immediately help, as Lamar Stevens got a layup to put PSU up 47-46. On the next possession, he hit a pair of free throws to go up by three.
A few minutes later, with OSU up by a pair, Kaleb Wesson picked up his fourth foul in a questionable call in the post. However, with the score close in what amounts to a must-win game, Holtmann opted to keep his center in the game with over 11 minutes remaining in regulation.
For much of the second half, Penn State employed a three-quarter court trapping press which forced the Buckeyes to waste valuable time getting the ball up the floor, leaving them with precious few seconds available to move the ball around the zone in order to find quality looks.
At the 6:18 mark, Muhammad pulled up for a jumper and was fouled by Reaves. He hit both free throws, and the freshman continued to be the most solid performer for the Buckeyes. On the game, Muhammad finished with 20 points, 5 boards, and 4 assists.
Up by two and the shot clocking running down, Jackson hit a “jumper” with a foot on the line that was effectively underhanded. On the shot, Penn State sophomore forward John Harrar was eventually whistled for a Flagrant 1 foul for driving Kaleb Wesson into the floor on a “non-basketball play.”
The Buckeye big man hit both free throws, but on the ensuing offensive possession, Jackson coughed up his fifth turnover of the game, leading to yet another Reaves steal and dunk. With three minutes remaining, the Buckeyes held a 68-63 advantage.
As the clock ticked under two minutes, Bolton drove to the basket, and even though Kaleb Wesson was trying to get out of the way, he was still whistled for his fifth foul, ending his night with just six points and two rebounds. After a pair of three throws, and an Andre Wesson turnover, Reaves picked up yet another steal and dunk to put PSU up 70-69.
As Holtmann called a time out, Wheeler and Woods started jawing, and both were hit with technical fouls. On the next possession, the Buckeyes worked the clock, and Jackson maneuvered his way into the lane and hit a no-look pass to Young who waited for his defender to overcommit and then converted the hoop and the harm. The sophomore forward couldn’t convert from the charity stripe however, and left the Buckeyes with just a one-point lead, 71-70, with less than a minute to play in regulation.
As Stevens drove to the rim, Young blocked his shot, and after the ball was batted around a half dozen times before going out of bounds. The referees went to the monitor to check to see who the ball went off of before sticking with the call on the floor of PSU ball. However, when the Nittany Lions inbounded, there was only one second left on the shot clock.
The entry pass made it into the middle of the lane for Stevens, but after review, he didn’t get the ball off in time, turning the ball over to OSU with a one-point lead.
After the Buckeyes got the ball inbounds, Andre Wesson was fouled; he split the pair to put the home team up 72-70. On PSU’s ensuing possession, Bolton left Jackson in the dust and there were no Buckeyes in his vicinity when he put up a wide-open layup. However, the ball rolled around the rim and fell into Jackson’s hands.
Wheeler fouled him, and Jackson hit a pair of free throws, effectively icing the game.
It was a painful game at times to watch, but the Buckeyes got a much-needed victory. On the game, both Jackson and Andre Wesson joined Muhammad in double-figures; both with 15. Both Stevens and Reaves finished the game with 20 for Penn State, while Bolton put up 15 of his own.
Across the board, the Buckeyes’ stats look like they had an impressive performance, shooting 50 percent from the field — and from three-point land as well — pulling in 33 rebounds, getting 18 points from the bench. But, fouls and turnovers continue to be the biggest issues for this inexperienced and undermanned team.
Holtmann’s squad ended the game having committed 21 fouls and 18 turnovers. Fortunately for them, PSU was charged with 23 fouls. However, OSU’s 18 giveaways led directly to 22 points for the visitors.
The Ohio State head coach is in a tough spot, as his roster is not made up of the type or number of players that he would like at this point. If they are going to make a return run to the NCAA Tournament, these two areas will need to see dramatic improvement between now and when the regular season ends on March 10.
Ohio State will head out on the road on Sunday, Feb. 10 to take on the Indiana Hoosiers (13-9, 4-7) in Bloomington, Ind., at 1 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on CBS.