Rushing out to a quick lead that they would never relinquish, the Buckeyes started strong and delivered Penn State’s 8th straight conference loss by a score of 65-51. The Buckeyes rode strong defense the majority of the way and prevented the Nittany Lions from finding enough offensive success to make a big difference in Thad Matta’s 17th straight win against PSU. Sam Thompson led the Buckeyes with 16 points and 6 rebounds, and was joined in double digit scoring by Lenzelle Smith and DeShaun Thomas who both put up 11. Penn State saw Jermaine Marshall (16), and D.J. Newbill (15) hit the double figures today.
Despite Dan Dakich indicating that the Nittany Lions were supremely confident, and more energetic than he’d ever seen a basketball team, Penn State struggled mightly with the OSU defense. Through an 11 and a half minute segment of the first half, the Nits were unable to buy a basket at all, and allowed the Buckeyes to take a double digit lead despite their own offensive ineptitudes. The Nittany drought did allow Thad Matta to experiment a little bit with his personnel, as he plugged Trey McDonald into the game for the most minutes since the preconference season.
The Nittany Lions made a few good adjustments at the half, and began to give the Buckeyes a hard time early in the second stanza. The Buckeyes responded by finding offensive success with Sam Thompson, who twice attacked the basket and drew a foul to help extend the lead. He followed that up later in the half with an excellent three pointer to help keep Penn State’s comeback attempt at bay for a while longer. But against this OSU team, it’s always seems to just be a matter of time before that comeback starts. With under 5 minutes to go and down 16, Penn State sank a couple baskets to put the Buckeyes on their heels. Unfortunately for the Nits, the Buckeyes did not back down like they have in previous games, and were able to right the ship enough to finish out the game.
The Buckeyes must be thankful for Sam Thompson today. DeShaun Thomas had a particularly poor shooting night, and OSU only hit about 40% of their shots from the floor for the day. It feels like every time the team takes a step forward in some facet of their offense, they take an equal step backwards in some other facet that we thought was rock solid. I’m particularly worried about how far Lenzelle Smith’s game has regressed this season, mostly because there’s no obvious reason why it should have.
1. Defense. Defense is always a strength of this team, but they managed to keep Penn State from scoring at all for the better part of 11 and a half minutes of the first half, which accounted for 13 straight misses. That allowed the Bucks to work on their offense and build a lead, regardless of how badly the offense performed.
2. Fast Break offense. When this team is on the fast break they play beautiful basketball. The passing is crisp and nearly always on target, and some of our fastest players are also our most exciting scorers near the rim. If the Bucks don’t let the defense get set then they are going to score.
1. Offense. This team simply has not figured out their identity in any significant way. Tank Thomas wants to take all the shots, but still passes up a few now and then. Everyone else on the team seems tentative and unwilling to attack the basket in any context. The only exception to this is Sam Thompson, who attacks the basket like a Norman Schwartzkopf armored assault. I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention the dreamy basket-slashing of Aaron Craft in the second half.
2. Scoring outside of Tank. DeShaun Thomas was forced to sit on the bench for 6 and a half minutes with 2 fouls in the first half. The Buckeyes, despite holding Penn State to no scoring at all during that period, was mostly unable to expand the lead. The problem might be approaching epidemic levels at this point.
The Buckeyes will next play the Wisconsin Badgers in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday, January 29th. You’ll be able to see that game at 7:00 PM Eastern on ESPN.