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It was Senior Night as Penn State took on No. 23 Ohio State at the Jordan Center Wednesday. Fittingly, a talented athlete likely playing his final game in the arena was the star of the show.
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, the player in question was Buckeye standout freshman D'Angelo Russell, whose second-half explosion did two things:
It swung momentum in OSU's favor for good in what would become a not-as-close-as-it-looked 77-67 victory.
It showed everyone in the house why the athletic, smooth-shooting rookie figures to be a one-and-done talent in Columbus and a top pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
He's that good, PSU coach Pat Chambers said. He took over the game.
During a 6:43 span in the second half, Russell erupted for 17 points to fuel a 24-6 run as OSU (21-9, 11-6) cruised.
Penn State, which started the season at 12-1, no longer has a winning record (15-15, 3-14). Senior guard D.J. Newbill led the Lions with 17 points, and went over the 2,000-point mark for his career in what may have been his BJC farewell.
I'd love to win more for him, Chambers said. Unfortunately, the bounces haven't gone our way.
Nothing went Penn State's way when Russell showed his stuff in the second half. The Lions led 38-29 on a Jordan Dickerson dunk with 17:30 left, then went ice cold. They missed 11 of their next 12 shots.
That allowed the Buckeyes to work their transition game off misses, and prevented PSU from getting into the set defenses it had used to contain Russell to that point. His barrage began innocently enough, with a pair of free throws to cut it 38-37 at 15:50.
Then he hit a 3-pointer in transition. Then back-to-back triples following a Newbill layup. Then a conventional 3-point play. Then another 3-pointer. Also in the run was a Russell assist to Shannon Scott for another trey.
Just like that, the Lions were down, 58-44.
Got to make shots, Chambers said. Because if you don't make shots, you can't get into those defenses. And (Russell) took over the game. That was the difference. Then everyone got hot. It was contagious.
Asked how much better Russell makes the players around him, OSU coach Thad Matta said, He definitely makes me a better coach.
At the other end of the floor, the Buckeyes wisely ran defenders at Newbill from every angle, daring other Lions to beat them. Early on, senior forward Ross Travis took advantage, and came through with several monster dunks. But he had a dozen points at the half and finished with 14.
Guard Shep Garner struggled from the field again, hitting only 1 of 6 3-pointers. Only some damage done during garbage time allowed him to finish with 13 points.
They were keyed on D.J. most of the game, Chambers said. We needed other guys to step up.
Ohio State, meanwhile, really only needed one guy to step up. And Russell delivered in a big way.
He has shown throughout the season that he can have some moments where he really, really gets going like that, Matta said.
Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, they'll likely never see him at the BJC again.
There was more buffoonery from the Big Ten officials in the first half Wednesday. On a Travis breakaway midway through the period, Newbill and Buckeye big man Amir Williams were trailing the action.
Williams threw out his right arm and knocked Newbill off balance.
Referee Chris Beaver did not see it that way, and called a foul on Newbill. Chambers and the crowd erupted.
Though no replay was shown in the arena, a Vine showed up on Twitter shortly after it happened. Which only served to further rile fans who saw it on their mobile devices.
A phantom offensive foul call on the Lions proved critical in a 76-73 loss to Maryland at the BJC Feb. 14. Fortunately, the latest bit of inept officiating had no real impact on the outcome of Wednesday's game.
Asked for his thoughts on the play, Chambers said, No comment.
PSU was fined $10,000 because Chambers blasted the Big Ten officials after the loss to the Terps.
HONORING THE SENIORS
Chambers started his four seniors — Newbill, Travis, guard Kevin Montminy and forward Alan Wisniewski. Montminy and Wisniewski are both primarily practice players, and as such logged only three minutes each.
Nevertheless, Newbill was happy to see them get on the floor.
They come in every day knowing that they probably won't get into the games but they lift in the mornings and work hard every day in practice, he said. You can't put into words what they have meant to this program. We definitely appreciate them.
Penn State caps the regular season with a road game at Minnesota Sunday. It tips at 1 p.m. (remember to spring forward) and can be seen on BTN.
What's at stake for the Lions?
If they win they are assured of finishing the season with at least a .500 record for the first time in Chambers' four-years at the helm. A .500 or better record could also mean the first NIT appearance under Chambers.
If they lose, they will enter the Big Ten Tournament at 15-16, and will have to win two games to assure themselves of at least a .500 record.