The No. 19 Buckeyes (14-2, 4-2 Big Ten) destroyed the Nittany Lions (10-6, 2-3) in their previous meeting, 104-69 in Columbus on Jan. 5, but OSU had to battle for this one.
Junior guard Ron Lewis, making his first start since the second game of the season, led Ohio State with 15 points. Senior forward Matt Sylvester lost his spot in the starting lineup, but responded with 14 points off the bench – all in the second half. Sylvester was solid in a sixth-man role last year, but had started 14 of 15 games this season entering play.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta was just happy to get through the tougher-than-expected game.
"This kind of game, as a coach, it frightens you," Matta told WBNS radio. "From a standpoint of, the stretch we've been through. We haven't had a lot of time off; we've practiced hard. And when you're coming off playing two top 15 teams in the country (Michigan State, Wisconsin) and then you've got to go on the road to play, I was nervous about our energy, I was nervous about our attention to detail. All those things.
"Fortunately, we were able to pull it out. When you get into trading baskets on the road, you can't do that. Thank goodness we were making shots on this end. We were making our free throws (23 of 28)."
Matta is as competitive as they come. Usually a coach would be happy with an 11-point conference win on the road, no matter the circumstances. But not the fiery Matta. He was not pleased with his players afterwards.
"As I told them, I wrote on the board after the game, ‘This is your one,'" Matta said. "This was the one where we did not have enough of what we needed to play our basketball… For the most part, we weren't tuned into the game like we should have been. I think every now and then you have those games.
"And I'm not taking anything away from Penn State, please understand that. They played great and they forced our hand."
Matta also discussed the decision to start Lewis and bring Sylvester off the bench.
"Matt's back had been messed up and he didn't practice yesterday and was kind of on a game time decision. But he felt great, he came in and shot last night. I thought he did a good job when he was in there. His back was good on the offensive end, but it was broke on the defensive end."
In the first half, Ohio State jumped out to an 18-11 lead. It looked like the Buckeyes might pull away, but Penn State began to prove why it has been a tough team this season at the Bryce Jordan Center (now 9-3 overall).
The Nittany Lions went on a 7-0 run to knot the score at 18-18 at the 7:30 mark of the first half.
A Foster 3-pointer restored the lead for OSU at 21-18. Dials picked up his second personal foul on the following possession. Early foul trouble has been a habit for the talented center throughout his career.
In his absence, sophomore Matt Terwilliger stepped and played well for the Buckeyes. He buried a 17-foot jumper, and then made two free throws to give OSU a 25-19 advantage.
But Penn State responded with another 7-0 run, capped by a Claxton tip-in, and the Nittany Lions took a 26-25 lead at the 3:00 mark of the half.
A Jamar Butler 3-pointer gave the lead right back to OSU at 28-26 at the 2:39 mark.
Following two free throws from Sullinger, the Buckeyes held a 32-27 lead at halftime.
The second half began with a flurry of outstanding defensive plays by the Buckeyes. Foster led off with a steal and coast-to-coast lay-up. Lewis then picked off a pass, was fouled, and buried two free throws. A Butler steal and ensuing lay-up capped the stretch and gave OSU a 38-27 lead at the 18:12 mark.
Consecutive 3-pointers from Foster and Sylvester gave OSU a 54-41 advantage at the 10:16 mark.
Penn State was able to get the deficit in single digits (59-51) at the 6:08 mark on a basket from Parker.
A deep 3-pointer from Sylvester gave the Buckeyes a 64-53 lead at the 4:43 mark. Penn State would get no closer than seven points from that point.
Ohio State is off until next Saturday (Jan. 28) when it travels to Iowa for an 8 p.m. tip.