COLUMBUS - Last Wednesday against Penn State, the Buckeyes did their damage the first 20 minutes and held on for dear life as the Nittany Lions made a furious charge. This time, Ohio State waited until the game's final five minutes before making their run.
Ohio State led Penn State for only about 13 of the 40 minutes played Wednesday but made the necessary plays in crunch time to hold off the visiting Nittany Lions for the second time in a week to take a 68-60 victory and sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
"Penn State is the best 1-12 Big Ten team I have ever seen," said OSU head coach Thad Matta in his postgame press conference. "We are fortunate to get the win although I thought we shot better in the second half."
The game had an ugly tone from the beginning. It took 2:30 for either team to score when junior guard Jamar Butler broke the ice with a three-pointer for the first bucket.
After that, Ohio State slowly stretched out to a 9-4 lead by virtue of a couple of dazzling plays by center Greg Oden, one of which was a thunderous dunk made after a nifty move against a Penn State defender in the post.
Ohio State's lead was short-lived.
Penn State caught fire from the outside. Over the next seven minutes, the Nittany Lions outscored the Buckeyes 16-5 on four three-pointers, including two by Milos Bogetic.
The Buckeyes closed the first half with a 7-2 run of their own. Penn State still took a 27-24 lead into the locker room.
"We made some tough shots in the first half," added Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis. "We played the tempo and pressured shots, and used the shot clock and shorten the game, but we came up short."
A quick 5-0 spurt out of half extended Penn State's advantage to 32-24 off lay-ups by Jamelle Cornley and Danny Morrissey as well as a Cornley free throw. The 6-5 Columbus native finished the game with just 7 points, but also added eight rebounds despite being in foul trouble for much of the game.
A 12-2 run by Ohio State gave the Buckeyes a 36-34 lead and the momentum. However, David Jackson scored 7 points in the next four minutes and Penn State took back a 43-40 lead with 9:11 left. It wasn't until Mike Conley made an open lay-up, after slicing through the middle of the defense with 7:05 left that Ohio State took a 47-45 lead - which they didn't relinquish.
"Our transition game and Ron Lewis really got us going in the second half," said Conley, who finished with 8 points and a game-high 10 assists. "We stepped it up defensively and got a couple of good shots."
Ohio State pulled away in the second half largely on the efforts of Butler, who had 15 of his team-high 18 points in the second half. Butler was 5-of-8 from the field and 4-of-6 from three-point range. Ohio State also got 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots from Oden, pulling away to a 62-50 lead with a minute left before a pair of three-pointers by Geary Claxton and Morrissey cut it back to 62-56 with 47 seconds left.
The scare, however, was not enough for Penn State. Ohio State iced the game at the foul line, preserving the 68-60 win despite 15 points by Claxton and 11 by Morrissey.
The Buckeyes (25-3, 13-1 Big Ten) are now poised for a key regular season home finale Sunday afternoon in Columbus. Wisconsin invades the Value City Arena for a game that could either give Ohio State an outright Big Ten Championship with a win or set up a likely co-championship with a Badger victory.
Although Wisconsin lost Tuesday to Michigan State, it's the first time ever that two teams ranked No. 1 in the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls will face each other. Wisconsin was voted as the No. 1 team in the country earlier this week in the AP, while Ohio State sits atop the Coaches' poll. Both teams are No. 2 respectively in the other poll.
Penn State (10-16, 1-12 Big Ten) dropped their twelfth consecutive conference game with the loss. Daequan Cook had 12 points and six rebounds for Ohio State. Lewis added 11.
"I just remember we lost," concluded Oden about Sunday's game. "We don't look back. We just take the game as a new one."