For its first 20 minutes of action in the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State looked disinterested against Penn State. They were sloppy offensively, lackadaisical on defense and generally lacked the urgency required in a one-and-done setting.
That all changed after halftime.
Better Buckeye ball movement and an intense 1-2-2 press defense led to a 14-0 run early in the second half to propel Ohio State to a 48-39 lead over 10th-seeded Penn State with 16:33 left in the game. While the Nittany Lions would make the Buckeyes earn it down the stretch, the effort continued from Thad Matta’s team as they held off Penn State for a 79-75 win in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“We didn’t have what we needed to start the game and give Penn State credit, they were banging shots,” Matta said. “I didn’t think they could continue to shoot the basketball like that, but we had to affect them somehow, someway. We weren’t playing as energetic off the ball as we needed to and fortunately our defense I thought got going which got our offense going.”
After turning the ball over six times in the first half themselves the Buckeyes (20-12) used the press to force two from Penn State (16-16) in the first three minutes after intermission, miscues that led to six points for Ohio State.
That defensive effort combined with the excellent play of JaQuan Lyle carried the Buckeyes to victory. The freshman point guard scored or assisted on nine of Ohio State’s points in the run and finished the game with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. He threw in three steals for good margin.
“I thought JaQuan did a heck of a job,” Matta said. “He had a couple big plays down the stretch and he hit some free throws for us that extended the lead. I think he was having two or three steals which means he was bending his knees on defense for once.”
Lyle became just the fourth player to have at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the history of the Big Ten Tournament and second Buckeye to do so. Ohio State’s Evan Turner is the only player to accomplish that feat twice while Purdue’s Bard Miller and Michigan State’s Draymond Green each did it once.
The Nittany Lions would cut the lead to three after Ohio State’s game-defining run, but the Buckeyes were quick to extend it back to nine on a jumper from Kam Williams with 11:55 remaining. Penn State made the higher seed work for it from there. Penn State regained the lead on free throws from Shep Garner, taking a 67-66 advantage with 4:12 remaining.
Marc Loving went 3 of 4 at the free throw line in Ohio State’s next two possessions to give Ohio State the lead for good with 3:18 remaining. Consecutive Lyle layups extended the advantage before the freshman point guard and Loving iced the game from the free throw line.
“Loving has been playing great,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said after the loss. “We needed to keep him off the foul line. We know he likes to shot-fake, but you’re so amped up you fall pretty to some bad habits. Lyle, I thought one-on-one really hurt us.”
Loving got to the free-throw line 15 times in the win, hitting 13 on his way to a team-high 24 points. Keita Bates-Diop added 14 points and six rebounds while Trevor Thompson had 10 points and six boards.
While the energy and effort carried the Buckeyes in the second half, the first half was in stark contrast. The Buckeyes struggled to find any rhythm and routinely lost shooters defensively, allowing Penn State to connect on 7 of 12 three-point attempts in the first half.
“A lot of times they were getting a lot of their threes from us going and double-teaming and us digging and it was giving them wide open kick outs,” Thompson said. “I feel like second half we did a lot better job of communicating and not digging down so much, not double teaming and sticking to our principals.”
That hot shooting allowed the Nittany Lions to build a 35-25 advantage with 4:18 left in the half. That’s when Ohio State began to wake up, thanks in large part to the 1-2-2 defense.
Loving was fouled shooting a three and connected on all three free throws to cut into the advantage and hit a three with just over a minute left to make send Ohio State to the locker room trailing just 37-34, closing the half on a 9-2 run.
“I like the way we finished the first half, I thought we were on a run,” Matta said. “I thought the press proved to be effective for us and that really got us going there in the second half. We played a little bit smarter, we played a little bit harder.”
That effort curbed the impact of Penn State’s shooting as it his just 2 of 10 from distance in the second half.
Brandon Taylor lead the way for Penn State early, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the first half. Garner, meanwhile, finished with a game-high 25 while Jack Donovon added 18 for the Nittany Lions.
Ohio State won the battle of the boards 41-33 and had 15 offensive rebounds lead to 13 second-chance points.
The win allows Ohio State to advance to face No. 2 Michigan State Friday at 6:30 p.m.