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Ohio State uses blazing hot start to race past Penn State, 79-67

The Buckeyes blitzed Penn State with a 16-0 run to start the game and never looked back.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The thing about “must-win” games that many people forget is that you actually have to win them. Or, at least the Ohio State men’s basketball team (13-5, 3-4) forgot that on Monday against Michigan, when they lost to the last-place Wolverines on the road in Ann Arbor, extending their losing streak to three games. Saturday afternoon’s game against Penn State (9-10, 3-5) was a self-billed must-win game after sophomore guard Roddy Gayle called it as much on Friday afternoon.

“It’s extremely important to defend our home court. It would be an amazing turnaround for us to be able to get rolling a little bit, especially in conference play.” Gayle said. “This is a must win game for us.”

The last time these two teams faced off, Penn State overcame an 18-point second-half deficit and stunned Ohio State in the Bryce Jordan Center, 83-80. Saturday afternoon was a chance for the Buckeyes to even the score.

Despite recent struggles, Chris Holtmann did not deviate from the starting lineup, going with sophomores Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle, Evan Mahaffey, and Felix Okpara alongisde senior forward Jamison Battle. Penn State went with a starting five of Kanye Clary, Ace Baldwin, Qudus Wahab, Nick Kern, and Zach Hicks.

The Buckeyes were blazing out of the game, opening things up with a 16-0 run to start the game. Gayle had Ohio State’s first four points, but after picking up a quick foul on a defensive rebound three minutes into the game, he was pulled in favor of Dale Bonner. When Gayle was out, Mahaffey took over the heavy lifting, scoring six consecutive points — which made Saturday his second-highest scoring game in 2024 (at the time), just five minutes into the game.

Mike Rhoades used two of his four allotted timeouts in the first eight minutes of the game, as his Nittany Lions were doing nothing right while Ohio State was getting the ball to the basket pretty much at will. Through the first 12 minutes, Ohio State had 18 points in the paint, compared to just two for Penn State.

After missing its first 13 shots and falling behind 16-0, Penn State hit four of its next seven, getting on the scoreboard and a little more comfortable on the road. By the under-eight media timeout with 7:13 left in the first half, Ohio State’s lead stood at 24-11. Jameel Brown, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard who came into this game averaging 4.2 points per game, knocked down two three-pointers to get Penn State on the board in the first half. Brown’s threes were Penn State’s first two made shots of the game.

The Buckeyes didn’t maintain that 16-point lead for the entirety of the first half, but still went into the locker room up 33-19 and feeling pretty good about themselves, especially on the defensive end. Ohio State held Penn State to 19 first-half points on 21.9% shooting, and that was despite Penn State hitting 5-of-13 of three-pointers. Ohio State really was not impressive for the remainder of the first half after the opening blitz, shooting 35.6% as a team after that opening 16-0 run.

Gayle led Ohio State with 10 first-half points, while both Brown and Baldwin had six apiece for Penn State. Ohio State won the rebounding battle in the first half, 23-18.

The two squads shot an identical 40% of the first 4:44 of the second half, shooting 4-for-10. Ohio State maintained that 14-point lead into the first media timeout of the second half, sitting pretty with a 41-27 lead with 15:16 left in the game. Meanwhile, they missed three more three-pointers, meaning they’d hit 3 of their last 36, going back to the Michigan game.

The Buckeyes extended their lead out to 22 points at one point, but held firm with a 61-43 lead at the under-eight media timeout. Both teams were making shots at a higher level in the second half, but Penn State needed way more stops than they were getting if they wanted to erase that big of a deficit.

While there were some nervous murmurs in the crowd when Penn State cut the lead to nine with two minutes and some change to go , the Nittany Lions never got back within shouting range of Ohio State after getting shoved into a locker during the first seven minutes. The three-point stroke did not return for the Buckeyes, but that didn’t matter at all in a 79-67 revenge win of the Nittany Lions Saturday afternoon.

Roddy Gayle and Evan Mahaffey each had 16 points to lead all scorers, with that 16 representing a new career-high for Mahaffey. Evan also had five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals in 31 minutes. Gayle chipped in four rebounds, five assists, and a steal as well in his 34 minutes. Battle (11 points) and Zed Key (10 points) also scored in double-digits for Ohio State. Kanye Clary and Puff Johnson each had 13 points for the Nittany Lions, who shot 37.1% as a team but were 11-of-24 (45.8%) from three-point range.

If you weren’t around Saturday afternoon to catch Ohio State get back on track with a sweet victory over the Nittany Lions, here are some of the key moments and plays that caried the Buckeyes to the win:

Ohio State lights up a 16-0 run to start the game

Considering the Buckeyes were 0-1 this season in games where they author a 16-0 run, doing so was an ominous signal for today’s game, but Ohio State didn’t give a damn.

Powered by Gayle and Mahaffey, the Buckeyes raced out to a scalding 16-0 lead over the first six-plus minutes of the game. Both Gayle and Mahaffey had six apiece during that run, while on the other end the Nittany Lions hit just one of their first 14 shots. Mike Rhoades used two of his four timeouts in the first eight minutes, trying to get something or anything out of his guys as the game slipped away in the opening minutes.

Roddy Gayle, getting to the tin

Gayle was shooting 6.3% from three (1-for-16) over his last four games, and has not looked confident at all letting it rip from deep (he went 0-for-3 today, so make that 1 for his last 19). He’s asked his teammates and coaches to stick on him so that he doesn’t lose confidence, and afternoon that translated into Ohio State’s first four points of the game, and 10 in the first half for the sophomore guard.

Roddy played 14 minutes in the first half and did not attempt a three-pointer. Instead, he drove to the basket with pretty much every opportunity, knocking down four of his five shots and finishing the first half with 10 points. He did have one turnover, but after a stretch where he had three or more turnovers in seven consecutive games, just one in the opening 20 minutes was a solid showing for the sophomore.

Jameel Brown gets Penn State on the board

Penn State sophomore guard Jameel Brown was averaging 4.2 points per game heading into Saturday’s showdown with the Buckeyes, and was held scoreless in seven of Penn State’s last eight games. But with his team down 16-0 early, Brown (a 38.9% three-point shooter) knocked down consecutive three-pointers to get his team on the board with 12:57 left in the first half. Brown’s threes made it 18-6 Ohio State.

Three-point struggles persist

The Buckeyes went into the locker room at halftime up 14 despite going 0-for-8 from three-point range in the first half, which meant they had hit exactly 3 out of 33 triples over their last three halves of basketball.

Ohio State has capable shooters on the roster, and it seems like it’s just a matter of time until those shots start to fall. But as this team’s struggles from beyond the arc continue, it’s reasonable to wonder if this is just something Chris Holtmann and the coaching staff will have to deal with for the forseeable future... 3-for-33 is a big enough sample size to wonder.

Key, Royal cook O’Boyle below the basket

No Ohio State fan is ever going to forget the name Leo O’Boyle. The Penn State transfer senior, who is averaing 2.6 points per game, lit Ohio State up for 15 points when these teams met last month in State College. Since then, he’s scored 11 points over Penn State’s last eight games. He finished with zero points in eight minutes on Saturday.

O’Boyle played sparingly this afternoon against the Buckeyes, but there was a stretch early in the second half when Zed Key and Devin Royal took him to town below the basket, getting payback for what the Scranton, Pennsylvania-native did to them in December.

With Ohio State leading 50-31 and just over 12 minutes left in the game, Key had a one-on-one matchup with O’Boyle below the basket, and immediately called for the basketball. Gayle passed from the wing and found Key, who spun around, went under the outstretched arms of O’Boyle, and scored through contact. He knocked down the free throw as well, making it 53-31.

After a Penn State basket, Royal had the same matchup below the basket. He took one dribble, spun away from O’Boyle, and hit a one-legged jumper from about six feet out to make it 55-34.

Key finished with 10 points in 12 minutes on 2-of-5 shooting and was 6-of-7 at the free throw line. Royal had eight points in five minutes.

Mahaffey sets new career-high in scoring

Mahaffey set a new career-high Saturday afternoon with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and did it against his former team, to boot. Mahaffey also had five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals in 31 minutes.

Up Next:

Ohio State (13-5, 3-4) has a quick turnaround after this one, as they’ll head to Lincoln on Tuesday to tangle with the upstart Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-5, 3-4). Fred Hoiberg’s team raced out to a 13-3 start to the season, which included a home win over top-ranked Purdue two weeks ago. Since then, Nebraska has lost back-to-back road games to Iowa and Rutgers, with a home date against Northwestern on the docket for Saturday afternoon.

The Buckeyes’ road match against the ‘Huskers will tip off at 7:00 and will be broadcast exclusively on Peacock.