OSU, PSU looking to snap streaks

Ohio State has lost four straight games, while Penn State has dropped 26 consecutive conference road games. The two teams will face off in Columbus Wednesday. Here is a preview.

Something has to give.

Ohio State hosts Penn State Wednesday at 8 p.m. and both teams are looking to end dubious streaks.

The Buckeyes (12-7, 1-4) have lost four straight games, including three in the Big Ten.

The Nittany Lions (7-11, 1-4) have lost 26 straight conference road games. Their last win on the road was a 78-73 decision at Iowa on March 1, 2001.

Penn State will also be trying to win back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time since last season, when it beat Minnesota Jan. 7 and OSU Jan. 10. But OSU coach Thad Matta isn't interested in a history lesson. He feels that the Nittany Lions are a decent team.

"I think Penn State is obviously playing well," he said. "Coming off a tough Michigan loss (66-62 on Jan. 15) – Michigan made some incredible shots down the stretch to beat them. But (Penn State) turned around and beat Northwestern on Saturday (65-62).

"They're a young team and obviously they are playing their best basketball of the season right now. We have to get our identity back and put together a solid 40 minutes and play consistent."

Penn State's top player is 6-9 junior center Aaron Johnson, who leads the team with 14.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. In fact, the 250-pound Johnson is the leading rebounder in the Big Ten.

The Lions' third-leading scorer – sophomore guard Marlon Smith – will miss the rest of the season with a head injury. He was averaging 11.8 points per game.

The rest of the youthful starting lineup includes: 6-5 junior forward Travis Parker (12.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg), 6-5 freshman forward Geary Claxton (11.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 6-3 freshman guard Danny Morrissey (6.8 ppg) and 6-0 sophomore guard Ben Luber (6.1 ppg, 3.3 assists per game).

The top player off the bench is 6-2 freshman guard Mike Walker (6.6 ppg).

For Ohio State, there is definitely a sense of urgency to win. Just a few weeks ago, most everyone was hailing the Buckeyes, saying their RPI would be high enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament if they weren't on probation. Now, OSU is just trying to stay out of the conference cellar.

"I think it's important," Matta said. "Getting a win under our belt… you're going to battle and four straight times we haven't come out victorious. You try and find the silver lining in things and it's hard. We can always say, ‘We need to get more consistent.' Well, now we've got to put the action into it and get the job done."

But Matta hasn't seen any quit in his team. No one is throwing in the towel after four tough losses.

"I give these guys credit – I have yet to see them not show up," he said. "I think the one time we didn't come out and play with great energy was the New Hampshire game. But I think this team has shown in 19 games – with the one exception – they've came out and competed. But we've got to get this team believing in themselves and believing in the system and knowing that we can finish out strong."

Junior center/captain Terence Dials leads OSU with averages of 16.4 points and 8.4 rebounds. Like everyone else on the team, he is frustrated with the close losses.

"We've been in every game that we've lost," Dials said. "We've just got to get over that hump. But guys are still energetic in practice and still coming out and playing hard. We just need to put a complete 40 minutes together and not have lapses down the stretch."

It will be an interesting matchup between Dials and Johnson – two of the conference's premier post players.

"Just try and keep him off the low block, keep a body on him and don't let him have good looks," Dials said of containing Johnson. "And he's the leading rebounder in the Big Ten, so I need to always keep a body on him and block out and try and keep him off the glass as much as possible."

Dials has been showcasing more left handed moves this season. It has helped make him more of a complete player. Teams can no longer overplay him to the right.

"Yeah, that's something that the coaches have been working with me on and I'm feeling pretty comfortable going to the left hand," Dials said. "When a team reads a scouting report on me, we want it to say that I can go either way. I don't want to be one-dimensional and only be able to go to my right."

But one move in particular is still his bread and butter.

"Yeah, my jump hook to the right is still my best move," he said.

Junior forward J.J. Sullinger is third on the team in scoring (10.3) and second in rebounding (5.5). He says the mood of the team is actually pretty good, considering the recent slide.

"We're definitely in a slump, but we're just trying to get better every day," Sullinger said. "Trying to keep working at it. We haven't given up at all. Just everybody is trying to win."

Sullinger believes that the Buckeyes' problem is that they can't seem to put an entire game together. They play well in spurts, but never consistently.

"You know what, we haven't put a good 40 minutes together," Sullinger said. "Sometime last week we played our best offensive game, but we didn't really play any defense. Then against Minnesota we played some of our best defense of the year, just couldn't get the ball to go in the basket. Then against Indiana, we just didn't do the things we needed to do to win. In all those games we turned the ball over at crucial parts of the game. We haven't put a good 40 minutes together and that's what we've been working on in practice."

What really stings for the players is how close they have been to winning most of the games during their losing streak.

"It's definitely frustrating," Sullinger said. "Anytime you are in the game at the end and you don't win, that's frustrating. And for it to happen a few games in a row, that's tough. It's hard to deal with. But we've been working on those situations in practice and we're trying to get better at it. Trying to tighten up the loose ends and we're just going to keep plugging away.

"Penn State is kind of in a similar situation as us. They're trying to get back on track."


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