Lions Fall to Buckeyes

A flurry of turnovers near the start of the second half prove too much to overcome as Ed DeChellis' squad falls, 75-64.

The Jordan Center crowd had barely settled in for the second half of Penn State's game against Ohio State Saturday, and as such the arena was on the quiet side.

The Nittany Lions were down 32-27 and had the ball to open the period. Then PSU guard Ben Luber threw a lazy pass that was stolen by Buckeye Je'Kel Foster. And then Lion coach Ed DeChellis stomped his right loafer on the floor in frustration, the resulting sound reverberating throughout the building.

And then, well, the other shoe dropped.

Foster scored a layup. Athletic Ohio State forced turnovers on two of Penn State's next three possessions, pushing the lead to 38-27, and cruised to a 75-64 victory to improve to 14-2 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten. The Lions dropped to 10-6 and 2-3.

“That was critical,” DeChellis said of the key stretch to open the second half. “Not only did we turn it over, it led to easy baskets.”

“It made us have to come from a lot farther back to [win],” PSU guard David Jackson said. “We were fighting the whole game to come back. [But] trading baskets, you are not going to win.”

This game was another exampled of how little wiggle room Penn State has against the better teams in the conference. In a meeting in Columbus 16 days earlier, the Lions had 20 turnovers that led to 38 Buckeye points in an embarrassing 104-69 loss. DeChellis' mantra coming into this one: protect the ball.

And State did just that through the first 20 minutes, with only five throwaways. In the meantime, the Lions attacked the rim and the offensive glass, scoring 14 points off 11 offensive rebounds to keep the veteran Buckeyes in range; this despite shooting only 28.9 percent from the floor through 20 minutes.

“Even though we played bad, we were only down five,” Jackson said. “We just had a bad start of the second half.”

OSU coach Thad Matta saw to that. Upset with his squad's lackluster effort in the opening period, he gave his troops a good talking-to at the break — “Let me paraphrase here,” he replied when asked what he said in the locker room, “we didn't play well.” He also brought pressure defense to open the second half. “We were trying to get 'em up and playing hard,” Matta said. It worked.

First Luber was picked. Then freshman forward Jamelle Cornley. Then Luber. All three turnovers led to baskets. Penn State had three turnovers in that 100-second span and only eight in the rest of the game.

From there, Ohio State matched practically every PSU basket with a successful offensive possession of its own, as the Lions never got closer than seven. “We couldn't stop them,” Matta said. “We just outscored them.”

He was right. PSU shot 62.5 percent in the second half. But the Buckeyes showed renewed vigor on the glass, holding the Lions to a total of five rebounds in the final period. DeChellis was disappointed in that number and his squad's inability to do everything well at the same time.

But overall, he was pleased to see his team at least compete with Ohio State this time around. While he avoided using the dreaded “M” word (moral victory), he did allow, “We're much-improved [from the previous matchup]. Guys believed they could win. We just didn't make plays.”

Added Cornely, who led the Lions with 14 points: “It makes me feel better because we played harder. Eleven is better than 35 any day. We're not satisfied, but we competed and played hard.”

NOTES

• After committing five turnovers, Luber spent most of the last 13 minutes of the game on the bench. Luber had 11 turnovers in two games vs. OSU this year. "The guy had a tough night," DeChellis said.

• Forward Travis Parker and Geary Claxton each had 13 for the Lions, and Claxton had four steals.

• Ron Lewis had 15 to lead the Buckeyes after making a rare start. The man he replaces in the starting lineup, senior forward Matt Sylvester, had several key buckets in the second half and finished with a dozen points.

• Penn State's brutal stretch continues with a trip to Wisconsin Wednesday. The game tips at 8 p.m. When DeChellis heard the Badgers were stunned by South Dakota State Saturday, he only half-jokingly said, “They won't be mad, will they? Can I get a break, God?”

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