The Nittany Lions matched their Big Ten win total from a year ago, when they were 2-14 in the conference, by breaking up a tight game at halftime and rolling to an easy 64-47 win over the befuddled Buckeyes.
Nothing -- and we mean nothing -- went Ohio State's way in this game, which many would have pointed to as an easy win as recently as two or three weeks ago. With just eight scholarship players remaining, Penn State (8-5, 2-0) was supposed to be the conference doormat. Before leaving Columbus, the Buckeyes labeled this game was labeled as a must-win.
But nothing fazed the Nittany Lions, who outscored OSU 37-21 in the second half to win going away. The Buckeyes tried to pressure the thin PSU team, but could not play without fouling. PSU feasted at the foul line, going 21 of 32 there, while OSU was just 7 of 8.
OSU also had no answer for PSU freshman guard Marlon Smith, who ended up with a career- and game-high 23 points. He and backcourt mate Ben Luber, who had nine points, outscored OSU‘s starting guards (Tony Stockman and Nick Dials) 32-6. Jan Jagla and Aaron Johnson each added 12 points for Penn State. The Nittany Lions opened conference play 2-0 for the first time since 1996.
"I'm proud of our kids," said Penn State coach Ed DeChellis. "They really battled. These guys find a way to win. We are glad to be 2-0, but we know it's a long race."
For Ohio State (8-7, 0-2), it was the team's fifth double-digit defeat. The Buckeyes shot 36.4 percent from the floor, including 0 of 13 on three-point tries, and committed a robust 19 turnovers and 24 fouls.
"We just had a very difficult time scoring, especially in the second half," OSU coach Jim O'Brien told WBNS-AM. "There's not a whole lot we can do about that. We kept going inside, but we didn't make enough shots. That's the disappointing thing."
Center Velimir Radinovic had his first double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 4:10 left. He was the only Buckeye in double figures as Terence Dials and Ivan Harris were next with six points.
OSU's backcourt players were a combined 6 of 31 from the floor, including Stockman going 2 for 10 and Nick Dials going 1 for 6.
"They went to a triangle-and-two and tried to take Tony and Nick out of the game," O'Brien said. "That left our third perimeter guy with some opportunities, but whoever we tried at that position didn't make enough plays. Our guard play was not very good, and it wasn't just one or two guys. It was across the board.
"Not to single him out, but Tony played a lot of time and didn't have an assist. They're not playing the way good guards need to play. It's that simple."
Perhaps the one play in this game that best typifies OSU's lost season occurred just before the half. OSU got the ball back leading 26-25 and called timeout with 34.6 seconds left to set up the last shot. Penn State allowed Stockman to hold the ball out top until 10 seconds remained. Stockman dribbled left, but Luber cut him off. Stockman tried a lazy crosscourt pass, which Luber easily took away with four seconds left.
Luber streaked to the other end and threw up a layup, which OSU's Matt Sylvester goaltended with 0.4 of a second left to send the Lions into the half on a high note -- not to mention a 27-26 lead.
"That was just a little indicative of how this game had been going," O'Brien said. "We got a little bit careless. You don't like to see that happen. We had a one-point lead and you would like to at least get the last shot and still go in at least up one."
DeChellis added, "We had been playing man-to-man, but we switched to a zone. We knew they were going to try and make a play. We got a steal and a basket there and that gave us some juice going into the locker room."
Penn State had the lead at halftime after hitting just 7 of 22 shots from the floor. OSU had committed nine turnovers and 11 fouls, giving PSU 17 free throws and the Lions made 12. OSU was 10 of 29 from the floor in the first half, led by Radinovic's 10 points.
The Lions also went six minutes, 21 seconds without a field goal in the first half, but still led at the intermission.
Penn State outscored OSU 16-4 over the first 10-plus minutes of the second half. Nothing O'Brien tried worked as he started the seldom-used Sylvester, but he missed a bad shot and turned the ball over in the first three minutes. He inserted J.J. Sullinger, but he immediately made a bad pass for a turnover. OSU went without a field goal here for six minutes, 20 seconds. Johnson scored on an easy baseline drive to cap the run and put the Lions ahead 43-30 with 9:50 left in the game.
Things went from bad to worse moments later as Johnson made a layup off a Smith pass in transition and Smith canned a three with a hand in his face to beat the shot clock. That shot put PSU up 48-33 and forced O'Brien to burn a timeout with 7:19 left.
Penn State got the lead as high as 22 at 61-39 when Luber made a pair of free throws with 3:39 left.
PSU won its third straight game, while OSU lost its third straight.
The Buckeyes will have a full week to stew over this one before hosting Minnesota next Saturday at noon (ESPN-Plus regional syndication).