The No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-4, 5-2) woke up Sunday morning with a perfect 7-0 record at home this season, and were looking to keep that home cooking going with another victory over a surging Penn State (8-7, 3-4) in the Schottenstein Center. The Nittany Lions had won three of their last four games, with that loss coming on the road against then-No. 3 Purdue by just seven points.
Sam Sessoms led Penn State with 17 points in their 66-49 win over Rutgers Tuesday night, with three other ‘Nits (Seth Lundy, John Harrar, Jalen Pickett) scoring in double digits. But the true story for PSU on Tuesday was their stingy defense, as they held Rutgers to a putrid 33.9% shooting, and 26% from three-point land. They also out-rebounded the Scarlet Knights 28-22 and forced 15 turnovers.
The blueprint for Micah Shrewsberry’s Nittany Lions Sunday was to keep much of the same going against an Ohio State team that didn’t play all that poorly against Wisconsin, despite what the box score might say. They shot 50% overall, a mark that would win most games. They tied Wisconsin in rebounds at 33, and “only” turned the ball over 11 times — all numbers that indicate a close game.
Instead, Ohio State fell behind by as many as 16 points during the second half thanks in large part to their inability to knock down shots from long-range. Despite shooting nearly 40% as a team this season from downtown, the Buckeyes hit just three of their 19 threes against the Badgers, a season-worst 15.8% from deep. Justin Ahrens’ struggles continued, hitting one of his four triples while also — shockingly — driving to the basket for his first two-point basket of the season. Ahrens had hit one of his last nine threes heading into today’s game.
Wisconsin — on the other hand — hit 43% of their threes against Ohio State despite being a sub-30% three-point team. Those lopsided shooting numbers ultimately led to a 10-point Badger victory.
News broke just before tipoff on Sunday that Lundy — PSU’s leading scorer at 14.1 PPG — would be unavailable for an undisclosed reason. While this made things easier for the Buckeyes defensively in theory, it would likely lead to more minutes for Sessoms, whose 17 points against Rutgers were the most he’d scored in conference play.
Ohio State rolled with a starting lineup of Jamari Wheeler, Malaki Branham, Ahrens, E.J. Liddell, and Zed Key. Penn State countered with Pickett, Sessoms (for Lundy), Myles Dread, Greg Lee, and Harrar.
The Nittany Lions came out with a bang, taking an early 10-4 lead on the backs of Sessoms and Lee’s combined eight points over the first five minutes. The Buckeyes started 2-for-8 from the floor, but were seemingly getting the looks they wanted — they just were not dropping early on.
After the early Penn State burst, the Buckeyes went on a run of their own. Over roughly four minutes of game time, Ohio State went on an 11-1 run capped off by an Ahrens triple that gave them a 15-11 lead. The two teams traded baskets for the most part following OSU’s counter-punch, with Ohio State’s lead stretching to as many as nine at one point.
The Bucks were able to head to the locker room with a 27-22 halftime lead, but the numbers for both teams were not pretty. Liddell led OSU with nine points at the break, but as a team the Buckeyes were shooting 33% and were 2-for-9 from downtown. Penn State, similarly, was shooting a filthy 29.6% from the floor and were 2-for-11 from beyond the arc. Sessoms and Lee had seven points apiece at the break.
As has been the case with most games this season, the Buckeyes were unable to complexly put Penn State away when they had the chance. Ohio State extended their lead to 10 points early in the second half, but the Nittany Lions continued to claw back each time OSU attempted to close the door.
Every big Ohio State bucket was answered by a bigger Penn State bucket down the stretch, and while the Buckeyes led the game for the vast majority of this one, it almost didn’t feel like it the way Penn State was keeping so close. But Young’s crucial steal on Sessoms with just over one minute to go proved to be a massive swing, as the Buckeyes were able to score on the other end and make it a 56-49 game, rather than PSU potentially making it a one-possession game had they not turned it over.
When the buzzer sounded, the Buckeyes had wrapped up a disgusting, chippy, drag-out victory over the Nittany Lions, 61-56.
Liddell led all scorers with 19 points, and he also had 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Key chipped in 10 points for Ohio State. Sessoms led Penn State with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
If you weren’t able to catch all of today’s Big Ten action in Columbus, here are some of the key moments that led to Ohio State’s fifth conference win of the season:
Lee’s early buckets give PSU the early lead
Lee, a transfer from Western Michigan, was averaging 6.8 PPG when today’s game tipped off. But thanks to his three-pointer at the 17:47 mark and a long two about two minutes later, the Nittany Lions carried a 10-4 lead into the first media timeout. Lee is hitting his three-pointers at just a 30% clip this season. He finished with nine points.
Wheeler takes the lead back for the Bucks
After going down 10-4 early, the Buckeyes responded with an 8-0 run over the next 3:39, including a straight away three-pointer from Branham and a driving layup on the left side from Wheeler that gave Ohio State a 12-10 lead at the under-12 timeout. It’s become pretty obvious that most possessions when Wheeler pushes the pace, he dribbles directly into the opposing defense and then spins around to pop it back out to the perimeter. This time, however, Wheeler caught the PSU defense off-guard and went directly to the rack, scoring over his old buddy Harrar.
Wheeler finished with nine points and four rebounds. Branham finished with eight and four.
Do it for Zed, Joey!
With 5:52 remaining in the first half and the Bukckeyes leading 21-14, Penn State’s Dallion Johnson missed a wide-open three-pointer from the far corner. The shot was long, and Branham was able to rip the rebound down. During the process of the play, Key hit the ground hard, holding his back and walking with a limp. An official called time, and Ohio State’s medical staff walked Key back to the locker room with an apparent ankle injury.
Joey Brunk checked in for Key, and on his very first possession of the game the Buckeyes got him the ball. Brunk backed down two defenders, spun and scored over the top of both of them to give Ohio State a 23-14 lead.
Sessoms with the silencer
About two minutes into the game (after having made his first two shots), Sessoms heaved a three-pointer from straight away and deep, missing the rim completely and brushing the ball gently against the net as it fell out of bounds. From that point on, the Buckeye Nuthouse student section shouted “air ball” in unison at the guard every time he touched the ball.
After hearing about his air ball for the next 14 minutes, Sessoms finally knocked down a shot with 4:00 remaining in the half — a three from that very same spot. His triple made it 23-19 Ohio State, as Sessoms stared over at the student section, which suddenly was much quieter.
Key back on the floor, back to buckets
After his little spill in the first half, Key started the second half and looked fine — perhaps just a bit shaken up from the fall. He impacted the game immediately after the break, scoring on back-to-back possessions starting at the 18:28 mark, pushing Ohio State’s lead out to double digits, 32-22.
Jevonnie Scott beats Key at the rim
Trailing 36-29 with 11:44 remaining in the game, JUCO-transfer Jevonnie Scott — who had only played in one game this season — went directly at Key below the basket, absorbing contact and scoring over the 6-foot-8 Buckeye big man. To the dismay of Shrewsberry no foul was called, but it cut Ohio State’s lead to just five points at the under-12 media timeout. Scott finished with four points and two rebounds.
Hammer down Eugene Brown
Leading 42-34 with nine minutes remaining, Brown — who averages 1.9 PPG this season — got his defender to bite on the shot fake from the corner before driving in and slamming it home with two hands. His dunk gave the Buckeyes a 10-point lead late in the game. Brown finished with six points in 18 minutes.
Dread’s three pulls the ‘Nits within four
Following a Liddell three that put Ohio State up 51-44, Dread hoisted up a three from the right wing that dropped without touching any rim, getting PSU back within four, 51-47. Chris Holtmann immediately called timeout, leading to the final media timeout with 3:50 left in the game. The Nittany Lions continued to push the Buckeyes, not letting them get comfortable with any lead throughout the game. Dread would finish with just three points in 28 minutes.
Young’s diving steal
With 1:23 left in the game and Ohio State clinging to a five-point lead, Sessoms attempted to back down Branham in the paint to potentially set up a mid-range jump shot. Young jumped in to help, and his presence made Sessom lose the ball. Young dove on the ground, grabbed the rock, and immediately called timeout before a held ball could be called. The Buckeyes took over with just over a minute to go and a five-point lead, rather than Penn State potentially cutting it to a one-possession game. Young finished with four points, seven rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 24 minutes.
No. 16 Ohio State (11-4, 5-2) will have one quick day off before facing the IUPUI Jaguars (1-14, 0-6) at home Tuesday night. This game was added to the Buckeyes’ schedule just last week after Ohio State was forced to miss three games last month while the team dealt with COVID-19. IUPUI has not beaten a Division-I team this season, with their lone victory coming over D-III Spalding College back on November 23.
IUPUI has lost nine-straight games and are the No. 356 team in the country (out of 358) according to KenPom. They average 52 points per game on 37% shooting as a team.
Ohio State’s game against IUPUI will tip off at 7:00 PM ET and will be broadcast on BTN.