Ohio State has been one of the best teams in the country as of late, but things certainly haven't always come easy. It was another hotly contested affair on Thursday night, as the Buckeyes were able to sneak by Penn State 92-82 in University Park to push their win streak to an impressive seven games. Chris Holtmann’s group managed to sweep the season series against the Nittany Lions, having previously defeated them in Columbus at the end of January.
The 92 points the most Ohio State has scored in conference play, the Buckeyes were led by E.J. Liddell, who was phenomenal all game long despite sitting much of the second period in foul trouble. The sophomore dropped 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding five rebounds and a block. He was aided by Duane Washington Jr., who had one of his best games of the season with 21 points on 6-of-9 from the field. CJ Walker came up big when it mattered as well, scoring 13 points with a team-high seven assists.
The victory was the ninth Quad 1 win for the Buckeyes this season, more than any other team in the country as they continue to try and solidify themselves as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. For Holtmann, it was the first time he has defeated the Nittany Lions in the Bryce Jordan Center since taking over as Ohio State’s head coach. The team now moves to 18-4 overall on the year, with a spectacular 12-4 mark in the Big Ten.
Get it to your guys
E.J. Liddell and Justin Ahrens have both been huge for the Ohio State offense all season. The sophomore forward Liddell has led the Buckeyes in scoring with his 15.1 points per game heading into Thursday night’s contest, while Ahrens has been one of the country’s best three-point snipers, hitting at a .469 clip from beyond the arc on the year. When Ohio State is playing its best basketball, they are making sure these guys get the ball in their hands early and often.
The Buckeyes did just that against the Nittany Lions, jumping out to a 20-12 lead mostly on the backs of Liddell and Ahrens. The pair were responsible for 13 of the team’s first 20 points, as Liddell opened up the night with a quick seven, including a three-pointer, while Ahrens had six points on a pair of three-balls. As a unit, Chris Holtmann’s guys went into the second media timeout hitting four of their first five attempts from downtown, with Duane Washington Jr. getting involved with a make of his own. Ohio State also forced the Nittany Lions into four early turnovers, resulting in seven points at the other end.
When it rains it pours
Both teams were making it rain in the first period at the Bryce Jordan Center.
With a little under six minutes remaining until the half, things were all tied up at 31-31, with both teams knocking it down with regularity. The Buckeyes began 12-of-18 from the field overall, including hitting 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. Liddell had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, while Washington Jr. was 2-of-2 from deep with six points. Seven different players on Ohio State were on the scoreboard with time still remaining in the half.
On the Penn State side of things, the home team began 12-of-19 from the field, including 6-of-9 from three-point land. Jamari Wheeler led all Nittany Lions with nine points, hitting 3-of-3 from downtown. Big man John Harrar had six points on 3-of-4 shooting, and in total seven different players on Jim Ferry’s squad had found the bottom of the net as well.
A large reason for the high shooting percentage on both sides were the number of assists each team was racking up. Ohio State had nine dimes, led by three from CJ Walker and two each from Liddell and Kyle Young. Penn State had eight assists, led by four from Izaiah Brockington.
Hot before half
College basketball is always a game of runs, and you really just have to try and make sure your runs come at more opportune times than the other team’s. Ohio State was able to make the end of the first period count, finishing the half hitting on five of their final six shots to take a 47-43 lead into the break. It would’ve been just a one point lead for the Buckeyes, but Ahrens knocked down his third triple of the night from the corner as time expired in the period to add on to the slim margin.
Liddell had a monster opening 20 minutes, leading all scorers with 17 points to go along with three boards and two assists. Ahrens had nine points to go along with two rebounds and a pair of assists of his own, while Washington was unusually quiet with six points on 2-of-3 shooting. Penn State was led by Wheeler, who had 11 points heading into halftime after making all three of his attempts from beyond the arc. It was just the second time Wheeler had scored in double-digits in 17 games, and he managed to hit that mark in the first period.
If Ohio State was going to open things up in the second half, they were going to have to clean some things up. They were shooting well as a team, but allowing far too much on the offensive boards and getting a little sloppy with the basketball. The Nittany Lions’ five offensive rebounds led to 11 second-chance points, the Buckeyes’ five giveaways led directly to eight points.
Back and forth
The second half could not have started much worse for Ohio State, as on top of a poor shooting performance to begin the second period, the Buckeyes also had to sit E.J. Liddell with three fouls. As a team, OSU hit on just two of its first eight attempts coming out of the break, while at the other end Penn State hit 5-of-10 including a pair of three-pointers to open up a 56-51 lead at the first media timeout.
On top of Liddell’s foul trouble, fellow forward Zed Key was also forced to the bench with three fouls. For the already vertically challenged Buckeyes, having both Liddell and Key on the bench for an extended period of time is a recipe for disaster, especially with the kid of offensive night Liddell was having. With the Nittany Lions opening up a 13-4 run, Holtmann was going to have to find some other way to spark his offense — and fast.
Luckily, they responded with a run of their own, with CJ Walker and Duane Washington Jr. leading the charge to get Ohio State back up by three, 64-61, with 11:28 to go. The Buckeyes were on a 11-0 spurt over the previous 1:55, and a 14-2 run over the past 2:50 as they hit on three-straight attempts from the field — including an and-one three-pointer by Washington to cap things off. Walker was having a really strong game of his own, now up to 11 points and five assists on the night.
The Big Ten ref show
If you’ve watched enough Big Ten basketball this season, you’ll know that more times than not the refs like to take over the game. The second period was exactly that, as breathing too hard on a player resulted in a ton of fouls going both ways as the night carried on. At the under-8 media timeout, Ohio State was up to 18 personal fouls as a team, while Penn State had 14 of their own. The refs were calling everything incredibly tight after not doing so in the first half, as a result the pace of play slowed to a crawl.
Both teams were falling deep into foul trouble with all the quick whistles. Liddell picked up his fourth for the Buckeyes, as did Musa Jallow. For the Nits, Harrar picked up his fourth foul midway through the period, while Seth Lundy and Sam Sessoms each had three. While it wasn’t the most exciting basketball to watch, both teams were converting their attempts at the charity stripe, as Ohio State was 12-of-15 and Penn State was 14-of-17. The Nittany Lions didn’t make a field goal for over seven minutes, but all of the free throws kept them in the game.
Despite the final minutes of the game moving at a snail’s pace, Ohio State was able to weather the storm and come away victorious. The Buckeyes didn’t play their best basketball of the season, especially at the defensive end, but it was enough to stay hot heading into this weekend’s huge matchup against the No. 3 Wolverines.