When Ohio State takes the court tonight against Penn State, they’ll be a team desperate for a win.
The Buckeyes (12-8, 4-3 Big Ten) are coming off a stretch with four of five games on the road, going just 2-3 over that stretch. While two of those losses were ugly – an 85-60 loss at Indiana and a 100-65 defeat at the hands of Maryland – the most recent stumble game in a closely contested game at Purdue. Ohio State played with better effort against the Boilermakers, but it still wasn’t enough.
“We know when we compete and when we’re ready to play and we have that mindset we can compete with anybody , but at the same time you obviously want to get the win and we’re obviously frustrated that we didn’t get it,” shooting guard Kam Williams said. “We know if we stay the course and keep chomping every day in practice we’ll get better and better.”
Lucky for the Buckeyes, they get to try to recover from that defeat against Penn State (11-9, 2-5). The Nittany Lions are coming off a 66-60 loss to Wisconsin and have been one of the worst teams in the Big Ten so far this season.
Penn State is averaging just 66.7 points per game this season, the lowest mark in the conference, while allowing opponents to score 68.6 points a game, good for just 11th in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are also last in the league in three-point shooting (30.8 percent) and assists to turnover ratio (0.8)while they are 13th in field goal percentage (41.7 percent).
Still, Thad Matta said that Penn State can be a dangerous team.
“They’re that team that if they get rolling, watch out because they can take and make some difficult shots,” the head coach said.
If someone on the Nittany Lions is hitting tough shots, it’s likely to be Brandton Taylor, who leads his team in scoring with 16.2 points per game. Shep Garner (14.1) and Payton Banks (10.8) also average double figures for Penn State.
While getting a home win over the Nittany Lions – a team with six double-digit losses on their schedule – would appear to be a manageable goal for the Buckeyes, this Ohio State team can’t take any team lightly.
“We just take it one step at a time right now,” point guard A.J. Harris said. “Like Monday when we play Penn State we just got to come in and get the job done, everybody got to do their part so we just take it one game at a time.”
While the game against the Nittany Lions is an opportunity for the Buckeyes to get a much-needed win, it’s also a chance for a couple of struggling players to get going.
Keita Bates-Diop, the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.4 points per game for the season, is scoring just 8.4 points per game in conference play. That’s thanks in part to scoreless outings against Northwestern and Purdue.
“He has to get his mind ready to play, to compete,” Matta said. “I think from the offensive standpoint we need him to be more ready to see things before they happen. He’s got some opportunties that showing him I don’t think he’s taking full advantage of. That’s something that we’ve got to get him playing better, there’s no doubt about it. And he wants to.”
Also looking to rebound is point guard JaQuan Lyle. While he’s had some great performances in the conference – including a triple-double against Rutgers and 29 points against Indiana – has averaged just six points and three turnovers in the Buckeyes last two games.
While improvements from Bates-Diop and Lyle would go a long way towards righting the ship for Ohio State, the Buckeyes know that more than anything they just need a win as their Big Ten and NCAA Tournament chances dwindle.
“It’s definitely hard. We’re always talking about like if one team beats another team where it’s going to put us in the standings, but ultimately we have to worry about ourselves and what we have to do,” Williams said. “Obviously for this week Monday and Thursday, that’s what we’re pretty much focused on.”