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Ohio State unable to buck the Big Ten road curse, falling to Penn State 90-76

The Buckeyes got knocked down early and were never able to recover, falling to 2-5 in conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In early December, the Penn State Nittany Lions (13-5, 3-4) visited Columbus, Ohio and were promptly undressed by the (then) No. 6 team in the country, 106-74. The undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes got 28 points from Kaleb Wesson, as OSU moved to 9-0 on the season and 1-0 in conference play.

Since then, the Buckeyes (12-6, 2-5) are 3-6 and the Nittany Lions have done the exact opposite, going 6-3. While Penn State has steadily gotten better, the Buckeyes went on a four-game losing streak, which was just recently snapped after Ohio State’s 80-68 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

The lineup versus the Huskers was a bit different with Ohio State guards Luther Muhammad and Duane Washington Jr. out due to a one game suspension. Head coach Chris Holtmann rolled out a starting five of D.J. Carton, CJ Walker, Andre Wesson, Kyle Young, and Kaleb Wesson in that game, with a very short bench.

Despite having Muhammad and Washington Jr. reinstated for Saturday’s game against Penn State, Holtmann kept the same starting lineup, despite Muhammad’s reputation as one of the feistiest on-ball defenders in the conference and Washington Jr.’s 10.7 points per game.

While the lineup stayed the same for the Buckeyesa, the head coach’s attire did not. Chris Holtmann opted not to bring the oh so popular salmon suit to State College, and after the first few minutes of this one, he may have been wishing he had.

At the first media timeout, Penn State had a firm grip on the Buckeyes, leading 10-4, including five points from leading scorer Lamar Stevens. The Buckeyes were getting good looks in the paint, but were not finishing strong, allowing the Nittany Lions to strip and block them several times as PSU coach Pat Chambers’ squad built an early lead.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After being pummeled just over a month ago, Penn State took it to the Buckeyes in the first half, leading 23-11 at the under-8 media timeout. Stevens had 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, as the Buckeyes had no answer for his unique size and skillset early on. Ohio State was shooting below 30 percent, while the Nittany Lions shot nearly twice that, hovering right around 60 percent in the first 10 minutes or so. Holtmann — forced to call a timeout when the Buckeyes went down by 14 — implored his team to stick with the plan, despite things going off the rails early.

Despite cutting the Lions’ lead to as few as seven late in the first half, lackadaisical defense from the Buckeyes allowed PSU to extend their advantage to 15, their largest of the afternoon, by halftime. Staring at a 42-27 halftime deficit on the road is certainly not what Holtmann had in mind coming off of a must-have victory over the ‘Huskers.

The Nittany Lions were led by Lamar Stevens with 10 points at halftime, but as a team shot 53.3 percent, including 46.2 percent from 3-point range. Penn State couldn’t miss, and even when their main offensive weapons, Stevens and Mike Watkins, sat with foul trouble, the supporting cast stepped up. Even with the shot clock winding down, running floaters like this were dropping for Penn State:

On the flip side, Ohio State shot 34.5 percent as a team in the first half and hit four of their nine three-pointers (44.4%). Kaleb Wesson had a strong first half with 12 points and 3 rebounds, but Buckeyes not named Kaleb shot just 25 percent in the first half. As was the case during their four-game losing streak, the Bucks were in desperate need of other guys to step up.

Andre Wesson answered the call for the Buckeyes when the second half began, hitting two 3-pointers to pull the visitors within 11. But every time Ohio State punched, Penn State punched back harder, and their hot shooting pushed their lead back to 16 by the first media timeout of the second half.

Even with Stevens and Watkins, who combine to average 26.3 points per game, both sitting on the bench, Ohio State still couldn’t stop the likes of Seth Lundy and Myreon Jones, who combined for 32 points.

Because this is as painful for people to read as it is for me to write, why don’t we break this up with something that will actually make us smile? Sounds good. Here’s over two minutes of Keita Bates-Diop highlights from the 2018 NCAA Tournament game vs South Dakota State.

Ahhh yes... that’s the good stuff. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

With 8:36 to go, the Buckeyes were still staring at a 14-point deficit, 66-52. Despite both Stevens and Watkins being in foul trouble, Penn State continued to batter the Buckeyes, shooting over 50 percent even in the late stages of this one. Ohio State got into the bonus with over 10 minutes to go in the game, but free throws weren’t enough to keep up with Penn State’s actual buckets that they were scoring on nearly every possession.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

By the time that the dust had settled, Penn State had closed the books on a 90-76 win at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions led this game from the second bucket until the final buzzer. Every time that Ohio State cut the lead to something that provided even a semblance of hope, such as 10 or 11, Penn State immediately squashed the rally. After losing to the Buckeyes by 32 last month, today’s 14-point win represents a 46 point swing.

Washington Jr. led the Buckeyes with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Kaleb Wesson contributed 19 to go with 5 rebounds and 4 assists. As a team, Ohio State shot 42.6 percent from the field, and 45 percent from 3-point range. They turned the ball over 13 times, with seven different players guilty of coughing up the rock at least once. Scoring 76 points will win you a lot of basketball games in the Big Ten, but not against Penn State’s offense today.

It was a hot shooting day for the home team, certainly. Stevens had 24 points and Jones scored 20. Penn State shot 53.7 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from 3-point range. However, Stevens and Watkins both sat for large portions in the game due to foul trouble.

Penn State put Ohio State in the bonus early in the second half as well, giving them ample opportunities to make up ground. The Buckeyes’ defense, however, could never stop the onslaught.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Ohio State’s next game will come Thursday, Jan. 23 against Minnesota in Columbus. That game will tip off at 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on FS1. Ohio State previously faced Minnesota on Dec. 15 in Minneapolis and lost, 84-71. The Buckeyes will look to get revenge on the Golden Gophers and improve to 3-5 in Big Ten play.