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The Fastbreak: 3 quick things from Ohio State’s survival against last place Penn State

This one was anything but easy for the Buckeyes.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The popular 2018 video game Red Dead Redemption 2 has a character, Dutch van der Linde, that utters the phrase “have some faith” whenever a plan is about to be put into action. Unsurprisingly, those plans generally find a way to go sideways.

On Thursday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes not only had some faith, but got some really lucky—or if you’re a Penn Stater, very unlucky—rolls around the rim in a 74-70 victory against the Nittany Lions. Penn State, by the way, was 1-10 in the conference entering the game at Value City Arena, and had the Bucks on the ropes; not only did the Scarlet and Gray have their backs to the wall, but a loss to PSU would’ve been a doozy that pushed them on the outside of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

Faith (as well as some grit) has kept the Buckeyes afloat this far into the season. February has brought two wins in two games, and there’s a chance to make it three on Sunday when the Indiana Hoosiers run into Chris Holtmann’s squad.

But before we look at IU, let’s look at the escape against Penn State—and see what the Bucks should do before they ride off into Bloomington, Ind.

1) Wesson on the floor = good | Wesson off the floor = not good

When Kaleb Wesson is on the floor, Ohio State just plays better. He doesn’t even need to score that much; just having him there makes opposing offenses work a little bit harder getting around the Buckeye big man.

On the other side of the coin, Wesson is still a foul machine. Kaleb had a bad foul—this specific event was numero four—down low on Mike Watkins. Even though playing defense and preventing an easy basket for Watkins is what he’s supposed to do, Wesson got wedged into a position that would bring about a foul. Eventually, he fouled out, and was unable to help OSU on the floor for the final 1:46 of action. Fortunately without him, the likes of C.J. Jackson and Andre Wesson kept things from completely falling apart.

From a scoring perspective, this was not a good game for Kaleb. He had six points on 1-of-2 shooting, and a pair of rebounds and assists; on the not-so-good side of the stat sheet, he had three turnovers. However, when he was on the floor, he had a +/- of +16. That means when he was on the floor, OSU had a positive scoring margin of 16 points. The second highest player in the +/- margin was Keyshawn Woods at +10.

If OSU wants to make an NCAA Tournament run, he has to find a way to stay on the floor. The Hoosiers are a team playing for their tournament life right now, and with Sunday’s game at Assembly Hall, is looking for a huge win to boost the résumé any way they can. If Kaleb is off the floor for long stretches of time, then the Hoosiers can pencil in the “W.”

2) Kind sir, please take this basketball

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, another victory was nearly snatched by the jaws of defeat. All because of turnovers.

If you’re a fan of efficient basketball offenses, then the latest OSU performance had you covering your eyes with your hands. The Bucks committed 18 TOs, which led to 22 Nittany Lion points. Basically, gifted basketballs kept PSU in the game.

The biggest offenders of the TO bug were Jackson (5) and Woods (4). On the other end, Josh Reeves had five steals—something he’s known for. Granted, it was kind of expected that Reeves was going to get a few steals, but for OSU to collectively give back the ball nearly 20 times? That’s not good.

I feel like there’s a little bit of Golden State basketball happening with OSU—and not the good kind. Careless ball handling lead to breakaway dunks on the other end, and bad passes squandered decent scoring chances.

Diagnosing the problem isn’t as simple as saying “make good passes”. Defenses are switching up their approach against Ohio State, and causing havoc as they move up the floor. One half it could be 2-3 zone, another half could be a press.

This problem needs to be massaged more in practice. Holtmann needs to put his starting five in defensive traps, and have them work the ball efficiently. He probably already does that now, but this is another data point where turnovers are nearly pushing OSU to the bottom of the Big Ten.

3) Luther leads the way

Ohio State needs a consistent scorer every night. Luther Muhammad put up a 20-point effort against the Nittany Lions—and was a big reason for why PSU didn’t get conference win No. 2 in Columbus.

Muhammad has had more good games than bad, but is he the definitive “scorer” on the team? Some nights it’s Andre, other nights it’s C.J., and then there are some games where Kaleb goes bonkers and wreaks havoc. However, there really hasn’t been a game where everybody seemed to click.

Hypothetically speaking, if the Bucks were down one with five seconds left in the game, who would get the last shot? Personally, I think it should be Luther. Ohio State needs to develop someone into being “the guy” in crunch time. Might as well be the freshman who has already showed an affinity for playing the game under Holtmann’s watch.