Ohio State's defense halts Penn State in return home
basketball Edit

Ohio State's defense halts Penn State in return home

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The front row of the Ohio State student section would not let Penn State forget what it lost.

Right behind the scorer’s table, sat a group of students, clad with body paint showing the message, “We got #55,” in honor of redshirt senior forward and Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler, a response to the Penn State student section that had the word “traitor” spelled out in body paint Dec. 5.

In the first three minutes of Wheeler’s second meeting against the Nittany Lions, his and Ohio State’s defense was nowhere to be found, allowing seven unanswered points, including a 3 by forward Greg Lee, a player the Buckeyes didn’t see in their first meeting Dec. 5.

Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann took a timeout. And when the Buckeyes took the court once again, it became a totally different team: a defensively minded group that completely eliminated the Penn State offense.

The Buckeyes engulfed the Nittany Lions, recording four blocks, forcing four turnovers including two shot-clock violations and two steals, forcing Penn State to shoot 29.6% from the field and 18.2% from 3 in the first half.

It was Wheeler’s style of game, one where Ohio State's offensive efficiency took a back seat to the Buckeyes' defensive tenacity.

It was ugly, but it was enough to continue Ohio State's (11-4) success at home, extending its win streak at home to eight games with a 61-56 win against Penn State (8-7).

In a game filled with inconsistent offense on both sides, Ohio State forced the Penn State offense to shoot 39.6% from the floor, making six of 22 attempts from 3.

Playing against a Penn State team that does not allow many opponents to get to the line, allowing 12.4 attempts per game — 12th best in the country — the Buckeyes got to the line 36 times, shooting 66.7% on free throw tries

The Nittany Lions cut its deficit down to four with a 3-point make by guard Myles Dread with four minutes to go, while Sam Sessoms cut it back down to four with a 3-point make with seven seconds left. But Ohio State's 10 free throws in the final four minutes were enough to secure the six-point victory.

Ohio State’s defense kept it ahead even when its offense lost the momentum it had, especially in the middle of the first half, ending the first 20 minutes with missing each of its last six tries from the field, not recording a field goal in the final 5:52.

But in the first half, Ohio State’s offensive cold spell, making nine of 27 from the field and two of its nine attempts from deep, was enough to stay ahead of Penn State.

Early in the second half, Zed Key took control, something that, as the first half neared its conclusion, didn’t seem like a given.

The sophomore forward took a hard fall, limping off the court with the help of a few Ohio State trainers to the locker room. Key returned to the court, though, with less than two minutes left in the first half, waving to the crowd as he sat back on the bench.

He started the second half without a hitch, and Ohio State began to play through the sophomore, hitting both of the Buckeyes first two shots of the final 20 minutes.

The forward scored six of Ohio State’s first nine points of the second half, recording point No. 300 and 301 on a layup in the paint to extend the Buckeyes’ lead back to 10 points six minutes in.

Key's presence wasn't permanent, being sent to the bench midway through the second half with four fouls, eventually returning with six minutes to go. But his play set the tone for the rest of the half for Ohio State, shooting 47.1% from the field in the final 20 minutes with only three attempts from deep: one make by junior forward E.J. Liddell, who led the team with 19 points.

Key finished the game with 10 points, his second-straight double-digit scoring performance in a row.

Ohio State remains home Tuesday, taking on IUPUI at 7 p.m.