Rock Bottom? Buckeyes Fall To Penn State

All may have seemed well following its win over Illinois nearly a week ago, but the Ohio State basketball team isn't out of the darkness just yet. The Buckeyes latest loss came at the hands of last place Penn State, and led to some soul searching by senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.

The look on Lenzelle Smith Jr.'s face said a lot.

His words said even more.

No. 24 Ohio State (16-5, 3-5) had just lost its fifth game in six contests -- a 71-70 overtime home defeat at the hands of Penn State (11-10, 2-6) -- and the Buckeyes senior guard could hardly contain himself. Fighting back tears, Smith reflected on not only what was arguably the most embarrassing loss of his college career, but a January that's proven cold for his Ohio State team in more ways than one.

"This game hurts the most out of every game since I've been at Ohio State. Hats off to them, they had a cause, they wanted this game. We just gotta get back to being a team, wanting to win," Smith said. "We were on a four-game losing slump, we beat Illinois and everything was back to normal. Everybody was happy. We acted like we didn't just lose four games in a row. As a team, I don't think we cared enough. These losses don't hurt enough. This is embarrassing.

"Every other team in our conference is laughing at us right now. They're on top of the world. This is a bad loss for this program and for me and (senior guard) Aaron (Craft). Definitely my senior year, this is not what I had in mind. But I'll never give up on my team. I know when we get a cause and we get hungry for wins and we stick together and we become a team again, I'll take us against anybody in the country. But right now, we gotta find what we're missing."

The answer to that could be found on both ends of the floor and at different points on Wednesday night, as the Buckeyes surrendered an 11-point lead with less than six minutes remaining in regulation. Trailing by a score of 59-48 at the 5:33 mark, the Nittany Lions closed the second half on a 17-6 run that was punctuated by a 3-point shot from D.J. Newbill with 13 seconds left on the clock.

Ohio State got one last look at preventing the game from going into overtime, but Smith's 3-point attempt with two seconds left rimmed out, as did Shannon Scott's ill-fated attempt at a put-back.

Overtime proved to be equally as unkind for the Buckeyes, who used four straight points from Smith to jump out to a 70-67 lead. Newbill, however, again was there to answer the call for Penn State, cutting Ohio State's lead to one with a layup with 45 seconds remaining before the final buzzer.

It looked like the Buckeyes would have to win the game at the free throw line, but Thad Matta's squad wasn't even that lucky as an Amir Williams turnover gave the ball back to Penn State with 13 seconds left on the clock. From there, Newbill had the last laugh, sinking a jumper over Craft with 1.9 seconds remaining to give the Nittany Lions the final lead of the night.

"That was a big time shot," Matta said of Newbill's game-winner. "He hit a tough pull-up and Aaron had him in front of him. That was a tough shot."

Newbill led the way for Penn State with 25 points and was joined in double-digit scoring by forward Brandon Taylor (19) and guard Graham Woodward (11). The Buckeyes were paced by forward LaQuinton Ross, who scored 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting, and Williams added 12 points for an OSU squad that shot just 38.2 percent from the floor and made just two field goals during the overtime period.

"We just weren't the tougher basketball team tonight," Craft said. "That's what it comes down to."

As his postgame press conference continued, Smith remained candid about the recent struggles that the Buckeyes have faced in his senior season. Asked what Ohio State has been missing during the 1-5 stretch that it has endured in the last three weeks, Smith was far from at a loss for words.

"Toughness, character, camaraderie, leadership," Smith responded. "I take full responsibility for that. I gotta get back to what we need and pick guys up and try to do my best -- an even better job -- to try to carry guys this year as a senior. I just feel so bad for me and Aaron and the rest of my teammates in the locker room right now. I know this hurts them. And it hurts me even more because this is one less game I get to play in this jersey and this is the greatest time of my life."

Ohio State's loss to Penn State marks the Buckeyes' first to the Nittany Lions since Matta arrived in Columbus in 2004. OSU had previously won 18 consecutive games over its Big Ten foe, who at 2-6 in league play still sits in last place of the Big Ten standings.

Now sitting in eighth place in the conference standings, the road ahead isn't any easier for the Buckeyes, who will head to Madison for a date with No. 14 Wisconsin on Saturday, before taking on No. 15 Iowa on the road on Tuesday. Asked if reaching rock bottom is what his team needed at this juncture in the season, Matta was much more concise than Smith previously had been.

"We're about to find out," Matta said. "Obviously I don't like the position that we're in. But it's the reality of it."

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