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Ohio State men’s basketball vs. Penn State: Game preview and prediction

2021 has been good to the Buckeyes. They’ll look to keep their new year’s momentum rolling against Penn State.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes are certainly hot, having extended their win streak to six games after blowing Indiana out of the water Saturday. Ohio State ran away with a 78-59 victory over the Hoosiers in Columbus, and improved to 17-4 on the season, including 11-4 in conference.

It didn’t take long for the Buckeyes to find their rhythm Saturday. After trailing the Hoosiers 6-2, Ohio State went on a 19-0 run, anchored by outstanding defensive play (hence the zero points from Indiana part). Archie Miller’s squad did mount a comeback to close the first half, narrowing the Buckeyes’ lead to just 10 at the break.

Indiana closed the gap to as little as five shortly in the second half, but the Ohio State defense once again stepped up. The Buckeyes jumped out to a 14-point lead on a 9-0 run that the Hoosiers couldn’t come back from. In the end, Ohio State came away with a 19-point victory as the squad prepares for a major showdown against third-ranked Michigan next week.

Ohio State shot greater than 48% from the field, including nearly 44% from range. The Buckeyes finished with 36 rebounds to the Hoosiers’ 28, and had 10 turnovers to 10 for Indiana. Ohio State added seven steals and three blocks on the day.

Sophomore forward E.J. Liddell, the Buckeyes’ leading scorer on the season, poured in 19 points for Ohio State as he led the team against Indiana Saturday. Junior forward Justice Suing wasn’t far behind, adding 16 points of his own, along with a team-high 10 rebounds. It was certainly a bounce back for both Liddell and Sueing, who had some of their worst scoring performances of the season in their previous outing against Maryland.

Junior guard Duane Washington Jr. had 12, while senior guard C.J. Walker, who’s been a spark off the bench after coming back from injury, had an even 10 points, four assists and two steals.

Preview

Ohio State has one more step before the team can face off against their chief rival, and the Buckeyes are set to hit the road once again as they face Penn State tonight at 8 p.m. on BTN. The Nittany Lions are 4-9 in Big Ten play, and 7-10 overall.

Penn State is coming off a heartbreaking, 62-61 loss to Nebraska Sunday in State College. The big news about that matchup was that the win from the Huskers happened to break a 25-game losing streak in Big Ten play for Nebraska, which stretched all the way back to last January. However, as it pertains to this preview, it also gave the Nittany Lions their second-straight loss.

In that matchup, junior guard Myreon Jones led the Nittany Lions with 18 points, while fellow junior guard Myles Dread added 14 of his own. Senior forward John Farrar led his squad in rebounds with 11, adding on six points to the team’s total. The Penn State bench put up just 10 points, with four of the Nittany Lions’ starters playing more than 30 minutes apiece.

Penn State struggled mightily from the field, connecting on just 21-of-65 attempts (32.3%). While they outrebounded the Huskers 39-35, and had a dozen turnovers to Nebraska’s 16, the Nittany Lions struggled at exactly the wrong times — like with 12 seconds left in regulation to give Nebraska a layup and the lead.

Both teams entered the break tied 35-all, but the Huskers managed to take control through much of the second half, leading by as much as 11 with just over eight minutes left in the game. A scoring drought from Nebraska, however, gave the Nittany Lions the chance to catch up late in the second half. It looked like Penn State had all the momentum when Jones connected for a three-pointer with 1:59 remaining to tie the game, and added on a free throw to take a 61-60 lead.

But, as mentioned, the Nittany Lions couldn’t quite close the deal in the close-fought game. Nebraska’s two steals in the game’s closing seconds were the most haunting of Penn State’s turnovers.

The loss against the Huskers all but dashed Penn State’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament. Previously having been firmly on the bubble, losses to Nebraska and Michigan State have effectively eliminated the Nittany Lions’ shot at the tournament — especially considering their remaining schedule (No. 4 Ohio State, at No. 11 Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota and at Maryland).

Of course, it’s not as though the Nittany Lions are renowned for their basketball program. Penn State’s last NCAA Tournament appearance came in 2011, when the team fell in the first round to Temple (however, for what it’s worth, the program did win the NIT in both 2009 and 2018). That vibe has continued into this season, with Penn State unable to put together a win streak of more than two games. And, just like the rest of the sports landscape, the Nittany Lions have been dealing with the effects of COVID-19, having postponed a four-game stretch in the middle of the season — a stretch which initially included their first matchup with Ohio State.

The teams ended up facing off for the first time this season in late January, with Ohio State emerging with a narrower-than-expected 83-79 victory. That win was the second in the Buckeyes’ current six-game win streak. In that matchup, Liddell ran away with 22 points, while Sueing added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Prediction

The Buckeyes have already proven they can beat the Nittany Lions, having come away with a victory less than a month ago, but Penn State will surely be coming in with a chip on their shoulder after a tough loss against Nebraska. While both teams have plenty in the way of veteran talent, Ohio State’s has stepped up since the turn of the calendar, getting hot at the right time as the squad prepares to head into tournament season. Ohio State has certainly been riding the success of its core, including Liddell, Suing, Walker and Kyle Young.

Ohio State has a distinct advantage in depth compared to the Nittany Lions. From Seth Towns to CJ Walker to Zed Key, the Buckeyes have consistently been able to produce off the bench, which has really helped when starters like Liddell and Sueing struggle from the field.

All that being said, Ohio State can’t afford to drop today’s matchup, especially since the end of the Buckeyes’ season is loaded with the top teams in the conference, including Michigan, Iowa and Illinois. Ohio State is tied with Michigan and Illinois for first place in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes already have wins over Illinois and Iowa, but Michigan, of course, is choosing to get back in the groove after a two-week hiatus due to COVID-19.

The Big Ten remains possibly the toughest conference in the college basketball landscape this season. With recent wins and a projected No. 1 seed on the line (with talks of Michigan getting one of the others), it looks like the NCAA Tournament will be heavily weighted with the Big Ten. That’s why Penn State will be no pushover. The Nittany Lions could be much better than their record, purely because of their conference peers.

Bottom line: The Buckeyes should get their seventh-straight win to sweep Penn State this season and head into their matchup with rival Michigan as one of the hottest teams in the country. Ohio State has an immensely challenging schedule remaining after Penn State, and needs this win as the team strives for a top-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 67.0%
Time: 8 PM ET
TV: BTN

LGHL Score Prediction: 78-71 Ohio State