Dealing With Pesky Penn State

Ohio State topped Penn State by 20 points in early February, but the Buckeyes aren't taking the Nittany Lions lightly in tonight's rematch.

Entering Sunday’s game against Purdue, Ohio State had consistently responded to double-digit first half deficts with comeback attempts. That was the problem though, they were just attempts.

Against the Boilermakers, Ohio State finally completed one of those comebacks, earning a 65-61 home win to propel the Buckeyes (21-8, 10-6) into a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten. Ohio State will look to carry that momentum into its third straight win tonight at Penn State.

“I hope they feel good about the win. In this league it’s hard to get wins,” head coach Thad Matta said. "As I told them the other night at halftime, I said, ‘Hey Purdue is fighting for their lives and we’re playing not to lose. We have to change that in the second half and we have to play to win.' I thought they did that and hopefully will continue that.”

If that continuation comes, it will be against a Penn State (15-14, 3-13) team that the Buckeyes topped by 20 points in Columbus early last month. While Ohio State dominated the scoreboard in that game, the Nittany Lions have made a lot of games close this season, even if they have few wins to show for it.

Though they have just three conference wins, on their home court Penn State pushed conference leader Wisconsin and second place Maryland before falling by single digits in both games.

The Nittany Lions score nearly six more points at home (67.1) than they do on the road and limit opponents to nearly eight points fewer inside Bryce Jordan Center (61) than they do on the road (68.9). All three of Penn State’s conference wins have come at home.

If Penn State needs extra motivation, tomorrow night is senior night for the Nittany Lions who have four players suiting up for their final time at home.

“Obviously they’re gonna play with just that much more juice,” senior Sam Thompson said. “The seniors have worked tremendously hard for the last four years just like our seniors have, they’ve enjoyed playing in that building, they’ve enjoyed playing in front of those fans and they want to go out on a high note.

“We know it’s going to be a close game. They played us tough here. I think we were able to pull away at the end, but they played us really tough here. They’re a team that plays hard, they make shots, they play tough and they’re going to leave it all out on the floor. We need to match their energy level, we need to match their intensity in order to come out of there with a win.”

One of the seniors who will be honored before the game is the conference’s leading scorer in D.J. Newbill. The guard is putting up 20.4 points per game this season. Against the Buckeyes he was limited, largely by Thompson, to 16 points, needing 13 shots to do it. Thompson will likely draw Newbill again in the rematch. No other Nittany Lions is averaging double figures this season.

Limiting a scorer as proficient as Newbill twice in one season won’t be easy. As the Nittany Lions have shown, getting by them twice in one year isn’t simple either. They have faced three conference teams twice this season, topping two of them at home and have been 13 points better on average against those teams in their own arena.

The Buckeyes have been prone to defensive letdowns on the road this season, but Thompson said those problems can’t resurface.

“It’s too late for letdowns now,” the senior said. “Everyone in that locker room understands that it’s too late for letdowns. We can’t, in the month of March, come out and lay an egg the way that we did a few weeks ago at Michigan. We all have a sense of urgency about us, we all know what’s at stake and it’s our job just to go out and execute.”

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