The upset minded Nittany Lions arrived in Columbus today to attempt to extend their streak over the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes. Despite a great attempt at precisely that, the Buckeyes secured the tough 69-66 win, surviving a last second three point attempt by Talor Battle. With the win, the Buckeyes move to 18-0 for the first time since the 1961-1962 season. The player of the game was clearly Aaron Craft who dropped 19 critical points with 7 assists and 3 rebounds. His 19 was matched by Jared Sullinger who closed out the game with his scoring while picking up 5 assists and 7 rebounds.
The Buckeyes started out in their usual man-defense look, but with a mild surprise. With Penn State’s Talor Battle in the game, many expected Ohio State’s best defender, David Lighty, to be his primary defender. Instead, the Buckeyes went with a much more basic position to position matchup covering Battle with Will Buford. The decision seemed to work well, as Battle was forced to work magic in order to get his points to fall early in the game. Of course, working magic is what Battle does.
The game started very slowly as both teams played tough defense. Penn State was the first to make significant adjustments to attack the Buckeye’s man defense. The Nits attacked the paint with their small players, using short quick passes to put OSU defenders out of position and open up easy layups. The strategy seemed to neutralize the advantage OSU gains from their offense, keeping Penn State close through most of the first half.
On offense, Ohio State was finding plenty of great opportunities and making numerous excellent plays. But when those plays found the Buckeyes attempting a layup, the shot always seemed to rim off the front of the iron. It was surprising to see the Bucks missing easy baskets in close, especially fast break layups. Aaron Craft made up for it, however, by scoring a quick 8 points of his own, beating his own game average in the first half.
Adjustments were made later in the half and the Buckeyes began to find passing lanes down low to Sullinger. It was important with Lighty, Diebler and Buford struggling to find points early in the game. The small switch in gameplan began to get the crowd going and, more importantly, forced Penn State to collapse into the paint on defense. The result was the OSU shooters managed to find open looks beyond the arc.
Penn State managed to open as much as a five point lead during the course of the first half. The Bucks, however, remained in step during the course to keep it tied at the half at 32. For the first half, Aaron Craft was the leading scorer for the Buckeyes with 11 points and 4 assists. The only other player in the game to break double figures in the first half was David Jackson for the Nits with 12 points.
For the half, the Buckeyes shot exactly 50% (11-22) from the field and 57.1% (4-7) from three. It was Penn State’s shooting, however, that was really making the difference. Despite their reasonably good 40% (4-10) from three, they were a ludicrous 60.9% (14-23) from the floor, making it clear that the Buckeyes defense was not forcing the Nits into tough shots. The Bucks were out doing Penn State on the boards, including an 11-7 rebound advantage and a 10-0 advantage in the free throw numbers.
Ohio State came out of the half smoking hot. Buford and Diebler quickly sank a pair of threes off of easy turnovers on the defensive end. Part of the sudden turnaround had to be a stern talking to from Thad Matta in the locker room, improving the defensive effort from the Bucks. The other big change was Aaron Craft coming out as a starter in the second half, with Lauderdale sitting on the bench. With the switch, the Bucks went on an 18-4 run, 12-2 in the second half, to take a 10 point lead.
The Nittany Lions began to try to close the gap by drawing fouls and getting the ball into the paint. Their long shots were simply not falling, but great box outs on Sullinger allowed the Nits to make things happen down low. A fortuitous timeout, though, allowed the Buckeyes to reset themselves on defense and maintain their lead despite a furious Penn State run.
Sullinger got a rest in the middle of the 2nd half, allowing Thomas and Lauderdale to see time at a critical junction of the game. With the Nits fighting to try to stay in it, it was up to the other big men to keep the paint clean while Sullinger took a break. They demonstrated their ability to change shots on the defensive end while in the game, and managed to maintain OSU’s hold on the lead, but unable to hold on to the differential. Penn State closed the gap to 2 with 5 minutes left causing the fans in the Schott to sweat.
Killing the Bucks the worst were the offensive rebounds. Penn State managed to pick up 5 critical rebounds under their own basket which they converted for points. Unfortunately for Penn State, it wasn’t enough to make up for Aaron Craft’s 7-11 shooting from the floor and 4-6 from three. Craft’s defender was often leaving him to provide help defense on other players all game long, and Craft made them pay for it. His 19 points made for a career night scoring the basketball.
Craft, however, committed a critical error. With 3 minutes left and a one point lead, Craft tossed a sloppy pass to Jon Diebler that was stolen by Talor Battle for an easy fast break layup. The shot gave the Nits a one point lead and a ton of momentum. William Buford wasn’t having it, though, as he sank a quick open three at the other end to regain the lead. The lead didn’t last as Talor Battle drew a double bonus foul on Craft and sank both free throws.
The Buckeyes responded in the obvious way – by going low to Sully. Sullinger sank a fantastic hook shot while drawing a fifth foul from Penn State’s big man Andrew Jones.
The Nits simply weren’t going to put up with that, going for a long shot that rimmed out. Not surprisingly, the way the second half had gone, Penn State collected the rebound. On the put back William Buford committed the foul that allowed the Nittany Lions to tie the game again.
Showing immense maturity and patience, the Buckeyes sought the best shot they could find, primarily looking for the inlet pass to Jared Sullinger. Eventually the opportunity presented itself, allowing Sully to draw another foul on a great hook shot giving him the old-fashioned 3 point play. Penn State looked for a long shot from Talor Battle to tie the game and send it into overtime, but fantastic defense from Aaron Craft prevented Battle from finding a good look and gave the Buckeyes the three point win.
Four players broke into double figures with Craft and Sullinger picking up 19, Buford hitting 13 and Diebler sinking 10. Penn State matched that with 19 from David Jackson, 15 from Talor Battle, and 11 from Jeff Brooks and Tim Frazier.
As a team, the Buckeyes shot 49% (25-51) from the field and 50% (10-20) from three. Penn State outshot the Bucks from the floor, hitting 55.6% (25-45) of their attempts, but couldn’t make anything from outside with a mere 23.5% (4-17) from three. Surprisingly, PSU also outrebounded the Buckeyes 25-16, including 7-4 on the offensive end. However, the 14-5 turnover difference greatly favored the Buckeyes, and may have been the significant factor in deciding the game.
The win, along with Duke’s loss to Florida State earlier in the week, may give the Buckeyes the #1 spot in the polls next week. That would be the first time since 2007 that Ohio State has sat atop the Basketball Polls.
Ohio State will next face Iowa in Value City Arena on Wednesday at 6:30 PM Eastern Time. That game can be seen on the Big Ten Network.