COLUMBUS - As the final buzzer sounded on Tuesday night's Ohio State men's basketball game it wasn't the usual suspects of Evan Turner and Jon Diebler on top of the Buckeye scoring column, but rather a pair of point guards in P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons who led the way for the Buckeyes. Each team ran off a 16-0 run in the first half but it was the combined 27 points from the unlikely duo that gave the Ohio State (18-8, 8-7) the 73-59 over Penn State (19-9, 8-7) to keep pace in the Big Ten race.
The Buckeyes also employed some new wrinkles to the defense to stymie the Nittany Lions early on and even when Penn State adjusted to counteract the triangle-and-two look that the Buckeyes opened up with the early damage was done.
"We felt like just trying to disrupt them a little bit out of the beginning and I thought our guys did a good job," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "(Penn State) made some incredible shots to cut back into the lead and quite honestly now when they go in, from what has happened to us this year with the shots that people have made, you just kind of take a deep breath and swallow and get onto the next play."
The Buckeyes held a 19-2 lead in the game and went into the second media timeout up 19-4 and it seemed that everything might be on cruise control. But any Ohio State basketball fan in 2009 knows that nothing comes that easy and the Nittany Lions ran back with their own run of 16 to all-but erase that lead and then would take the lead on several occasions in the first half.
"I told our guys that it was going to be a game of runs and that we are going to have to absorb the first punch, if we don't throw it we are going to have to absorb It," Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis said. "We hung in there and made some plays and played with some poise and got ourselves back in the thick of things and had the lead."
Ohio State's early first half punch came with the first career start of Hill who had five of the Buckeyes first ten points and gave a boost to Simmons who volunteered to come off of the bench after telling Matta that he felt that would be the best chance for the team to win.
"I just told him that I thought I would be better coming off of the bench and that I would be more productive," Simmons said. "I am a real person and I understand that P.J. works hard and I see him every day (putting in) work. I knew he would start us off with a strong start on the defensive end so I just wanted him to start."
Penn State came into the game with the plan of stopping Evan Turner and for all intents and purposes found success in that holding Turner to zero first half points and six for the entire game.
"Our plan was to try and take Turner out and try to make somebody else make some shots and Simmons made some big shots for them," DeChellis said.
The big shots came in the second half but not before Penn State hit some more clutch shots. Columbus (Ohio) native Jamelle Cornley had 11 points for the Nits while Danny Morrissey heated up from beyond the arc.
"The momentum swung and we had a couple of lapses on defense where guys didn't know where their guys were or they didn't know how to properly help because we just put some new stuff in," Hill said. "I think that everybody stepped up though and when they came on the run we answered back."
Turner scored his first points of the game at the eight minute mark and that would be the beginning of the end for Penn State. Turner's offensive put back would put the Bucks up by four and there was no looking back.
"Guys throughout the course of the game contributed and made big plays for us," Matta said.
While Turner only scored six points he did more with eight assists and six rebounds on Tuesday night and his team was able to pick up the slack.
"We have been saying to him all the time that if he passes it to us, 'we will make you look good, we will hit it for you,'" Hill said. "He took heed to our word and started passing it to it and now it gets easier when we take the pressure off of him. Now everyone is not going to be able to help so much and he will have more open lanes."
The win snaps an ill-timed three game losing streak and helps the Buckeyes sleep a little easier and while Ohio State is not anywhere close to being off the bubble they may be on the right side of it for now.
"Three game losing streak by ten points," Ohio State center B.J. Mullens said. "That hurts us but tonight was a big win for us and it gave us our confidence back and we just need to come out on Saturday against Purdue and do the same thing."
Ohio State – Simmons 14, Hill 13, Mullens 13, Buford 11
Penn State – Cornely 11, Jones 10, Pringle 10, Battle 10
Ohio State – Turner 6, Mullens 5, Diebler 5
Penn State – Battle 9, Jones 6, Cornley 3
Ohio State – Turner 8, Diebler 3, Hill 2
Penn State – Battle 7, Four tied with 1