But Buckeye freshman big man Jared Sullinger came up with two huge and-one baskets down the stretch and Nittany Lion senior guard Talor Battle was short on a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer, as OSU escaped with a 69-66 victory at Value City Arena.
With No. 1 Duke losing earlier in the week, 18-0 (5-0 Big Ten) Ohio State figures to climb to the top spot when the new polls are released Monday.
The Nittany Lions, looking to beat a third-straight ranked opponent for the first time in school history, fell to 10-7 and 3-3, and have now lost 14 straight to the Buckeyes.
We gave ourselves a chance to win, and that's all you can ask, Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said.
Battle's late miss hurt PSU, but the game was lost much earlier. The score was tied 32-32 at the break before the Nittany Lions lost their composure to start the final period. They had four turnovers in the first three and a half minutes, leading to a dozen Buckeye points.
Sullinger, who tied for game-high scoring honors with 19 points, made it 44-34 on a conventional 3-point play at the 16:36 mark.
Penn State spent the next 13-plus minutes scrapping to get back in it, and finally caught the Buckeyes when Battle had a steal and score with 2:52 showing to put the Lions in front, 61-60.
William Buford countered with a 3-pointer and OSU led 63-61.
From there, the officials took over the game, calling six fouls down the stretch (three on each team). Battle was whistled for an offensive foul while driving in the paint, only to see Sullinger called for the same offense while posting up PSU center Andrew Jones 16 seconds later. Both appeared to be dicey decisions by the refs.
Following that exchange, Buckeye rookie guard Aaron Craft was slapped with a foul on a play during which it seemed as if Battle simply stumbled in the lane. Battle made both ends of a one-and-one to tie it 63-63 at the 1:12 mark.
The Buckeyes then got the ball into the post to Sullinger, who scored over Jones and was fouled. Jones fouled out on the play. Sullinger made the free throw for a 66-63 lead.
Penn State came back with a David Jackson stick-back of a Battle miss. Jackson was also fouled (by Buford) and made the shot to tie it at 66-66 with :44 showing.
Following a timeout, Ohio State went back inside to Sullinger, only this time he was being guarded by skinny redshirt freshman Billy Oliver. Sullinger scored and -- you guessed it -- was fouled by Oliver. The PSU bench argued that Sullinger was hacked before he was in the act of shooting, but the official awarded the basket and the free throw.
Sullinger converted again for a 69-66 lead with :14 to go.
Battle's top-of-the-key shot at the buzzer was closely contested and did not have enough on it and the game ended. It was a tough afternoon for the Big Ten's leading scorer, who finished with 15 points but made only 5 of 17 shots.
It's not the last play of the game, DeChellis said. It's all the goofy things we did to start the second half.
Battle was 1 of 10 from the arc, and he wasn't alone in struggling from long range. As a team, Penn State made only 4 of 17 triples. The Lions also had 14 turnovers that led to 27 Ohio State points.
Those poor numbers offset a 56-percent overall shooting effort and a 29-17 rebounding advantage.
Craft also hit for 19 for Ohio State, marking a career high. Buford (13 points) and guard Jon Diebler (10) were in doubles, too.
Penn State's string of five-straight ranked opponents continues at No. 8 Purdue Wednesday. The game tips at 8:30 p.m. and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.
See the box score from Saturday's action here: