The Big Ten has been an absolute bloodbath this season, and no team has really been able to grab an edge on the rest of the conference outside maybe Michigan State — who themselves even just lost by nearly 30 to Purdue. There are no easy games in B1G country, and Ohio State has learned that the hard way. It’s been a tough stretch for the Buckeyes during the month of January, but they were finally able to snap a four-game skid with a win against Nebraska in their last time out.
They will look to make it two in a row as they hit the road this Saturday for a rematch against Penn State. The game is set to tipoff at 12:00 p.m. EST at the Bryce Jordan Center, and will be broadcast on ESPN U.
Ohio State looked like they were primed to do big things this season when they began the year hotter than the sun. At 11-1, the Buckeyes had picked up huge wins against No. 10 Villanova, No. 7 UNC on the road, and No. 6 Kentucky at a neutral site. OSU was knocking off AP Top 10 teams with ease, and with just one more game to play in the non-conference schedule against No. 22 West Virginia, everything Chris Holtmann had touched seemed to be turning to gold.
Instead, the Bucks now sit at 12-5, with just a 2-4 record in the Big Ten. They would lose the game against the Mountaineers in disappointing fashion, which became the start of a dreadful four-game losing streak. The turnovers that had been the Achilles heel of the team even when they were winning got even worse, and combined with a lack of ball movement, the inability to knock down even the open shots, and players getting benched for a lack of focus, all was not well in Columbus.
Ohio State was finally able to get itself back on the right track in its last time out, despite Holtmann suspending both Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. for a “failure to meet program standards and expectations.” Missing two starters, the Buckeyes were able to rally to beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers 80-68 behind a hot shooting night creating by a bunch of unselfish basketball and a return to form at the defensive end.
The Scarlet and Gray shot the lights out in Columbus on Tuesday, hitting above 54 percent of their shots from the floor and over 45 percent from deep. OSU got a big-time performance from CJ Walker, who was able to make the most of his extended minutes created by the absence of Muhammad and Washington. The redshirt junior guard scored a season-high 18 points, tying his season-high with five rebounds while adding four assists and a pair of steals.
Without two starting guards, Ohio State was able to find production from all over the court, as all five starters and six total players scored in double figures. Kaleb Wesson and D.J. Carton each scored 13 points. Kyle Young looked to be much closer to full strength as he continues to work back from appendix surgery, totaling 10 points, six rebounds and two blocks against the Huskers. As a unit, OSU was much better at handling the ball, finishing with 17 assists and 12 turnovers as a team — their best ratio in quite some time.
Penn State is a team that shares a ton of similarities to the Buckeyes. They have an identical record to Ohio State on the season, with both a 12-5 mark overall and 2-4 in Big Ten play. They too began the season scorching hot, and have since hit a lull. Unlike OSU, however, the Nittany Lions are still in the middle of a tough losing streak, having dropped three-straight.
PSU began the season 7-1, with a tough two-point loss to Ole Miss sandwiched between some nice wins including a road victory at Georgetown and a 21-point shellacking of Syracuse. After being demolished by Ohio State in the last meeting between the two teams — which we will discuss shortly — Penn State bounced back in a big way, defeating No. 4 Maryland its next time out and rattling off five-straight wins, culminating with a three-point win over No. 23 Iowa. However, after dropping their next game against Rutgers, the Nittany Lions have since lost to both Wisconsin and Minnesota in the lead up to Saturday’s game.
Penn State looked like they should have been dominating in its last time out against the Golden Gophers, shooting 60 percent with zero turnovers heading into the break. They would begin the second half on a 10-2 run, but a scoring drought of nearly 12 minutes proved to be the death blow for the Nittany Lions. Myreon Jones and Seth Lundy each had 15 points for PSU, with the team’s leading scorer on the season Lamar Stevens finishing with 14 points. After their hot shooting in the first period, Penn State hit just 24 percent in the second half.
Stevens has led the Nittany Lions all year with his 16.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. The senior forward has seen a little bit of a dip in production from last season, wherein he averaged close to 20 points per game. His shooting has been more efficient in this campaign, however, hitting at over a 45 percent clip from the field. Jones has been right behind Stevens with nearly 14 points per game of his own, while senior forward Mike Watkins leads the team with 8.3 rebounds per contest.
The last time these two teams met in Columbus, it was not close. Ohio State thoroughly dominated, defeating Penn State 106-74. The 106 points were the most by the Buckeyes in any game this season, and one of only two times the team has scored 90 or more in a game. Kaleb Wesson scored a season-high 28 points against the Nittany Lions, with Muhammad, Washington, and Andre Wesson each adding 14-plus. Stevens had just 11 for PSU, with sophomore guard Izaiah Brockington leading the way for them with 19 points.
Ohio State shot over 57 percent from the field that day, out-rebounded the Nittany Lions 37-25, and turned the ball over only nine times. These are not trends I would expect to see repeat themselves the second time around, especially on the road. Before its loss to Minnesota, Penn State had been leading the Big Ten in steals per game and turnover margin in conference games — two things that play perfectly against OSU’s weaknesses. This one will certainly be a lot closer than the 32-point margin of victory in the last meeting.
Neither of these teams are hooping at a high level right now, with Ohio State winning one of its last five and Penn State riding a three-game losing streak. While the Nittany Lions average nearly five more points per game than the Buckeyes, the offense has dipped during the cold stretch, with the team shooting less than 40 percent in two of its last three games. Their strength is certainly on the defensive end, where they lead the conference in both steals per game (8.6) and blocks per game (6). However, whereas OSU somewhat shockingly leads the Big Ten in three-point percentage (38.2), Penn State ranks second to last in defending beyond the arc.
Ohio State leads the all-time series against Penn State 36-17, however they are only 13-9 in College Park. While the Buckeyes have faired incredibly well as a ranked team against the Nittany Lions, going 19-7, you can almost throw out all of the numbers when you take into account how hard it is to win a road game in the Big Ten this season. Overall, the B1G road teams are an abysmal 6-38 in conference games this year. The Bucks have a tall task ahead of them if they wish to go against the grain, but they might be catching PSU at a bad time.
As we’ve seen with OSU, issues tend to compound themselves during a losing streak. Ohio State lost a game at home to Wisconsin that it definitely should have won in the midst of its four-game skid, and they will hope to be on the other end of the coin against the Nittany Lions. While the Buckeyes likely have the disadvantage as the road Big Ten squad in a game between two more-or-less similar teams, maybe the luck finally breaks their way, and instead they're the ones who win a game that easily could’ve been a loss.