With not much left to play for this season other than pride and “growth” (as Chris Holtmann called it last week), Ohio State (11-17, 3-14) found itself playing a rare role on Thursday evening — spoiler.
For the first time since the 2016-2017 season, the Buckeyes find themselves out of the NCAA Tournament picture, with a miraculous run in the Big Ten Tournament the only thing that could save them. Penn State (17-11, 8-9), on the other hand, was on the NCAA Tournament bubble entering Thursday night’s contest. The Nittany Lions are just below .500 in conference play, and are considered one of the first four to eight teams out of the tournament, depending on who you ask.
Fortunately for Penn State, those tournament hopes are still very much alive following a 75-71 Nittany Lion win in Columbus Thursday night. It brings Penn State up to 8-9 in the B1G, and inches them even closer to their first tournament appearance since 2011. Jalen Pickett led Penn State with 23 points on 8-11 shooting over 29 minutes, with 21 of those points coming in the second half. Pickett also scored Penn State’s final 14 points.
Brice Sensabaugh was Ohio State’s leading scorer with 20 points — his tenth game this season of 20 or more points. He also had five rebounds, two assists, and one steal. Bruce Thornton had an excellent game as well, with 19 points, four rebounds, and an assist. No other player scored in double digits for Ohio State.
Chris Holtmann started four freshmen on Thursday night for the second consecutive game, continuing a trend that Ohio State fans have not seen since the late 1990s. Justice Sueing started along with Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Sensabaugh, and Felix Okpara. Penn State went with a starting five of Camren Wynter, Andrew Funk, Pickett, Kebba Njie, and Seth Lundy.
Penn State came out scalding hot from beyond the three-point line, knocking down three of their first four shots from distance to jump out to an 11-8 lead by the first media timeout 4:13 into the game. With PSU up 11-8, Roddy Gayle fouled Lundy shooting another three, sending the senior forward to the line for three free throws. Lundy knocked down just one of them, giving his Lions a 12-8 lead early on.
Wynter gets the triple to go! @PennStateMBB pic.twitter.com/FCuyWwqy7D— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 23, 2023
However, the Buckeyes went on an 8-2 run late in the first half and took a 24-23 lead into the under-eight media timeout with 7:57 remaining in the half. Sensabaugh and Thornton were playing marvelously on the offensive end, hitting all but one of their seven combined shots to this point. However, the Buckeye freshmen fouled Lundy multiple times on jump shots, leading to eight first-half free throws for the Penn State senior.
The two teams battled to a 37-37 tie at halftime, with both offenses clicking at a high level while the defense was.... not so much. Sensabaugh and Thornton combined for 24 points in the first half, with 14 coming from the former and 10 from the latter. Okpara also had six points in the first half. Lundy had 14 first-half points as well, with nine coming from the trio of threes he hit. The Buckeyes shot 51.7% in the first half, and Penn State was just behind at 46.4%.
Felix Okpara... AGAIN @Felixokpara24 x @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/Jy82UQfaAw— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 24, 2023
Pickett and Wynter kept the Penn State three-point barrage going early in the second half, with each knocking down a triple before the first media timeout of the second half. Through the first 24:07 of the game, Penn State was 8-14 from three (57.1%). However, Ohio State scored on four of their first five possessions of the second half and only trailed 48-46 at the first media timeout of the second half at the 15:53 mark.
The offenses continued to fire on all cylinders for both teams, and following a chaotic 30 seconds of basketball around the 8:00 mark, Ohio State went into the under-eight timeout with a 65-64 lead. In a span of 40 seconds, Likekele glassed a three-pointer (his second of the season), Pickett answered with a three of his own, and Thornton knocked down a free throw line jumper to put Ohio State back up by that singular point, 65-64.
AND-ONE @JalenPickett7 x @PennStateMBB pic.twitter.com/aj8QyI9mGo— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 24, 2023
However, Jalen Pickett turned on the jets over the final few minutes, scoring Penn State’s final 14 points including a crucial and-one layup that put the Nittany Lions up four points with 59 seconds remaining. After a nonexistent first half, Pickett lit up the Buckeyes below the basket and delivered a big win for the (potentially) tournament-bound Nittany Lions.
If you weren’t around tonight to catch Ohio State lose their 14th game out of their last 15, here are a few key moments and runs that carried the Nittany Lions to victory Thursday evening:
Penn State, true to form
The Nittany Lions entered tonight’s game shooting 38.9% from downtown, which is the best mark in the Big Ten and good for the 10th-best mark in the country. They stayed true to form early on, knocking down three of their first four three-pointers, two of which were from Lundy, who shoots 44.1% from distance.
Lundy was fouled by Gayle shooting a three-pointer 4:13 into the game as well, but the senior forward was only able to knock down one of the three free throws, putting Penn State up 12-8.
Penn State finished the game 10-19 (52.6%) from beyond the arc.
Thornton’s three gives OSU the lead, but Wynter answers
Bruce Thornton from DEEP! @Bruce2T_ x @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/QsRhB9eldN— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 23, 2023
Trailing 12-10 roughly five minutes into the game, Sueing swung the ball from the top of the key to Thornton on the left wing, who connected on his 31st three-pointer of the season to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the game, 13-12.
However, Wynter knocked one down on the other end for Penn State seconds later — his second of the game as well — to put Penn State back up, 15-13, with 14:24 left in the first half.
Ohio State can’t stop fouling Lundy on jumpers
Folks, one of the worst things you can do when defending a jump shooter is to make contact on the shot. But Ohio State’s freshmen made some freshman mistakes tonight, including twice fouling Lundy on three-point jumpers.
The first time it was Gayle, who fouled Lundy at the 15:47 mark shooting a three from the left wing. Lundy uncharacteristically missed two of the three free throws he earned, which only put Penn State up 12-8 at the time.
The second time it was Thornton who fouled Lundy shooting a straightaway three, with 7:57 left in the first half. Holtmann emphatically shouted that the call should have been a flop on Lundy, not a foul on Thornton. After carefully considering the Ohio State coach’s opinion, the referees repeated that it was still a foul on Thornton. Lundy hit two of the three free throws, putting Penn State ahead, 25-24.
Also mixed in was a foul on Isaac Likekele, once again fouling Lundy on a jump shot with just over nine minutes left in the first half. Lundy knocked down both free throws. Lundy finished the night with 19 points on 5-9 shooting, including 4-8 from beyond the arc. He was 5-8 from the free throw line, and the eight attempts set a season-high for the senior from Paulsboro, N.J.
Thornton, Sensabaugh power Buckeyes in the first half
Sensabaugh has been a steady force for Ohio State all season long, save for a tough three-game stretch two weeks ago. Thornton had a substantial drop-off in production once the calendar flipped to 2023, but has been fairly efficient over the last three-plus weeks.
Tonight, the duo combined for 24 points on 9-12 shooting in the first half alone. They each dished out an assist as well, with neither turning the ball over.
Sueing gives Ohio State the lead, but Wynter answers yet again
After Likekele tied the game 55-55 on a layup with 12:50 remaining, the Nittany Lions chose to double-team the senior guard below the basket on the following Ohio State possession. Seeing this, Likekele dished off to Sueing for a bucket, which gave Ohio State their first lead in over 12 minutes, 57-55.
But on the ensuing Penn State possession, Mr. Reliable Camren Wynter drove to the basket for a layup to tie it at 57 and was also fouled by McNeil at the basket for the and-one play. Wynter missed the free throw, leaving the teams knotted at 57.
Wynter finished the game with 18 points on 7-12 shooting over 38 minutes. He was 4-5 from beyond the arc and also had six rebounds and one assist.
A chaotic 40 seconds, indeed
Everything is falling for Thornton @Bruce2T_ x @OhioStateHoops pic.twitter.com/wU6KAcZFiA— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 24, 2023
With Penn State leading 61-60, and 7:32 remaining, Thornton had the ball near the free-throw line and the shot clock was dwindling. He passed the ball to Likekele in the left corner, who somehow found a way to glass a three-pointer from that spot to give Ohio State a 63-61 lead. It was just his second three of the season. Likekele went on to finish with seven points, six rebounds, four assists, and one block over 32 minutes.
Penn State went down the court 17 seconds later and Pickett answered with a three from the top of the key himself, putting the Nittany Lions back in front, 64-63.
22 seconds later, Thornton knocked down a 12-foot jumper from straightaway and put Ohio State back in front, 65-64. Chris Holtmann immediately called timeout.
Pickett heats up and closes the door
After scoring just two points in the first half of tonight’s game, Pickett picked it up in a major way during the back 20. He backed down Sueing below the basket with 4:36 remaining in the game, and then turned around and knocked down a fading jumper from about seven feet to put Penn State up three points, 68-65. He then scored as the shot clock expired two possessions later to give Penn State a 70-65 lead with 2:51 remaining. Pickett scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half of tonight’s contest.
Ohio State (11-17, 3-14) is back at home Sunday afternoon against Illinois (18-9, 9-7). The Buckeyes traveled to Champaign back on January 24 and lost, 69-60. That loss was the beginning of Ohio State’s lengthy losing streak. Ohio State’s game against Illinois on Sunday will tip off at noon and will be broadcast on CBS.