Penn State's deliberate style of play ensured that the Buckeyes (17-6, 7-3 Big Ten) would not run away with the contest, but the visitors still found themselves within striking distance of the upset in the final moments.
In the second half, OSU's lead stayed within the 7-12 point range until less than 3½ minutes remained. PSU guard Chris Babb canned a three-pointer with 3:23 remaining to make the score 65-60 in favor of the Buckeyes, and two free throws from David Jackson made it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening moments.
Then junior guard Jon Diebler picked the best time possible to hit his only shot of the night. On OSU's ensuing possession, Diebler – who had missed all six of his shot attempts including five from beyond the three-point arc – found an open look from the right wing and buried it with 1:28 remaining.
"I was just thinking one was bound to go in," Diebler said. "I had a lot of good looks. That's where I've learned from years past. In years past my confidence would've gone down and I probably wouldn't have shot it."
The basket doubled his team's lead and proved to be the dagger. OSU ended the game on a 9-0 run with the final seven points coming from the charity stripe to set the final score. PSU (8-14, 0-10) missed two shots and committed one turnover during the same stretch.
After hitting a three-pointer in 30 straight games, Diebler was headed for his second night without one in three games until the shot. It was nearly his first scoreless game since an April 1, 2007 win against Ole Miss in the NIT two seasons ago.
Junior guard Evan Turner again led the way for the Buckeyes with a game-high 27 points, 22 of which came in the final stanza.
"Stuff opened up in the second half as opposed to the first," he said. "My teammates hit shots and they started paying attention to them more. That allowed me to go to work and do my thing for the most part."
He went back-and-forth with PSU junior point guard Talor Battle, who went 8 for 18 from the field and led his team with 24 points.
Asked if any defender can stay in front of Battle, PSU head coach Ed DeChellis said, "I don't know. Anyone who can stay in front of Turner? I thought both kids played really well tonight. Both kids made their teammates better. It was fun to watch two top players in this league battle each other."
OSU head coach Thad Matta attempted to get senior guard P.J. Hill into the lineup to guard Battle on one occasion but was unsuccessful.
"We didn't get him in on time," the coach said of the 6-1, 170-pound guard. "I thought with what we were doing, the size (would help) and tonight (Battle) was looking to penetrate more. I was hoping our size would be the difference there."
Three Buckeyes saw 40 minutes of action: Diebler, Turner and junior forward David Lighty.
Four times, the Nittany Lions managed to whittle the lead to seven points during the second half until their final run. Until Babb's basket, the lead stayed between 7-12 points in the second half with OSU answering each time PSU cut it to seven.
"It was very critical (to keep answering) because obviously we weren't getting the job done on the defensive end," Diebler said. "We have full confidence with Evan having the ball at the end of the game."
The Buckeyes never trailed in this one, and the game was only tied when each team had one field goal. From there, OSU gained its first separation of the game by putting together a 6-0 run that made the score 8-2 with 15:37 remaining in the first half. OSU was 3 for 6 with one turnover at that point, while the Nittany Lions missed three of their first four shots and committed two turnovers.
The lead increased to a game-high 13 points at the 6:25 mark of the half when reserve Jeremie Simmons drained a three-pointer to make it 26-13 in favor of the Buckeyes. For Simmons, it marked his first trey since the team's Jan. 12 road victory against Purdue – a streak of five games and six missed three-pointers.
His basket capped a 9-2 OSU run. Four of the points came courtesy of sophomore guard William Buford, who had a jumper and two free throws before being lifted for a breather with 8:02 left. He would be limited to 13 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble but he put up a game-high 11 points during the first 20 minutes while going 4 for 4 from the floor.
Buford finished with 19 points.
The only Buckeye to see action not to score in the first half was Diebler, who missed all three of his field-goal attempts. His struggles were masked by Lighty, who hit three first-half three-pointers and four during the evening to set a career-high for a single game. He finished with 12 points.
Turner grabbed the final rebounds of the game to give him 10 for the night and another double-double.