In desperate need of a win to get back on track, the Ohio State men’s basketball team (12-5, 2-4) will welcome in the Penn State Nittany Lions (9-9, 3-4) to Columbus this afternoon in hopes of redeeming the Buckeyes’ loss in Happy Valley back on Dec. 9. The Buckeyes fell to Penn State 83-80 after leading 41-29 at the half, and led by 18 at one point in the second half. Penn State outscored Ohio State 54-39 in the back 20, and it became the worst loss of the season.
After defeating Rutgers to open up the new year, the Buckeyes have dropped three games in a row, and have to get back in the winning column as soon as possible so that the demons of last season do not creep into this one. Last year, the Buckeyes lost 14 Big Ten games in a 15-game stretch at one point, and finished 16-19 overall and 5-15 in the Big Ten
The 2023-24 season is not in turmoil yet, as realistically a three-game losing streak in college basketball is not the end of the world and will not bury one team. Still, the memories — or nightmares — of last season linger in all fans’ minds. Saturday is the best opportunity the team will have to get right.
Penn State is coming off a home win against No. 11 Wisconsin 87-83, giving the Badgers their first loss in Big Ten play. They were on a two-game losing streak and had lost four of their last five before the win over Wisconsin.
As we enter this contest, the keys to winning stand out pretty obviously for Ohio State: shoot the ball more efficiently, and guard Penn State guards better than in the first contest.
Against Indiana, the Buckeyes shot 7-for-27 from deep, and players that weren’t named Jamison Battle were 2-for-17. It was the same story against Wisconsin, as the team shot 6-for-18, and players not named Jamison Battle shot 2-for-13. Against Michigan, nobody shot the ball well, as the Buckeyes were 3-for-25 from three, and Jamison Battle was 1-for-8.
For the people keeping track at home, that is 16-for-70 over the last three games, which is 22.8 percent... 23 percent if you round up. That is not winning you many ball games.
After the Michigan game, Bruce Thornton spoke about the Buckeyes shooting struggles.
“It’s a way different ballgame when you’re making shots and when you’re missing shots,” Thornton said. “It’s a make-or-miss league for this league. It’s a make-or-miss league for a lot of power-five and mid-major leagues because if you make shots, the whole tenor of the game is different.”
Chris Holtmann remained positive about the Buckeyes’ 14 remaining games even through the recent struggles.
“Listen, you guys will see it,” Holtmann said after the Michigan loss. “You guys, obviously, can write about a three-game losing streak right now. But our story is far from over. You’ll see what this group can turn into. Not many people are gonna feel that right now, but I certainly do. I know our staff does. And I know a lot of the guys in the locker room do.”
Bruce Thornton comes into this one as the Buckeye’s leading scorer at 16.8 points per game, while Jamison Battle is second on the team at 14.6 points per game, and Roddy Gayle is third on the team at 14.1 points per game.
Thornton also averages 4.2 assists, Battle averages 5.4 rebounds, and Gayle averages 4.1 rebounds. Battle has been one of the best shooters in the conference and the country, shooting 44.4 percent from three-point range on 6.9 attempts per game.
Felix Okpara has been a reliable contributor as well, averaging 6.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. In the previous game against Penn State, the Buckeye’s big men Okpara and Zed Key both had solid games, with Okpara recording nine points and eight rebounds on 4-for-5 shooting and Key recording a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds on 4-for-7 shooting.
Penn State is also led by guards, with Kanye Clary averaging 19.1 points and Ace Baldwin averaging 13.2 points per game. In the first contest last month, Clary, Baldwin and D’Marco Dunn combined for 44 of the Nittany Lions’ 83 points. The Buckeyes will need to slow down those guards in order to win this one.
This one Is simple for the Buckeyes — It is a must-win. If Ohio State drops this one, you can chalk this season up to another disappointing campaign that will very likely end in a missed tournament.
On the bright side, I do not believe that will happen. Penn State is coming off a win against Wisconsin, but that was in Happy Valley, and this one is in Columbus.
Roddy Gayle and Bruce Thornton have been struggling, and as the Buckeyes two leading contributors, that has been the main reason for the slump. But these talented players only slump for a bit and will get back on track; This is the game to do that. I think Gayle has a big game in this one, breaking his recent struggles trend and guiding the Buckeyes to a key victory.
The three-point shooting has been a problem for Ohio State, and Penn State is 10th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten in three-point defense. This is a great chance for the Buckeyes to get some open looks and break the shooting slump.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 81.5%
Time: 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network