The eighth-seeded Nittany Lions (15-13) assured themselves of a winning season with their third win of the year over NU. Now, Penn State will tackle regular season champion and top-seeded Ohio State (23-4) in Fridays first quarterfinal game at Indianapolis Conseco Fieldhouse (noon, ESPN).
Speaking on Wednesday, Matta discussed his battle plan.
We wont practice Thursday until after that (PSU-NU) game, Matta said. Well get the team over there, get our game plan in order and go play.
Ohio State swept the regular season series with Penn State, winning 104-69 Jan. 5 in Columbus and 75-64 Jan. 21 at State College.
Penn State has gone to primarily zone defenses, Matta noted. They play a 2-3 and a 1-3-1. They also use a three-quarters court press. Offensively, Penn State plays more of a power-type game. They are shooting the ball better.
The game at OSU got away from the Lions early as the Buckeyes held a 58-29 halftime advantage in their Big Ten opener. Ron Lewis made 10 of 11 shots from the floor, including 5 of 6 three-point attempts, to lead the Buckeyes with 26 points. J.J. Sullinger added 18 points for the Buckeyes, who shot 63.2 percent from the floor.
It was a bittersweet homecoming for PSU forward Jamelle Cornley, a Columbus native who would be named the Big Ten freshman of the year. Cornley had 20 points and six rebounds to lead PSU in that game.
The rematch was much closer as the Buckeyes led only 32-27 at halftime. But the OSU backcourt turned up the heat with JeKel Foster, Lewis and Jamar Butler all pulling off steals early in the second half as the Buckeyes extended their lead. Lewis again led OSU with 15 points, while Foster had 13 and Butler scored 12. Cornley led four PSU players in double figures with 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Lions did a good job in containing OSU center Terence Dials, named as the Big Ten player of the year. Dials had five points in the home win and eight in the rematch.
But PSU did not handle OSUs backcourt pressure. Guard Ben Luber had six of PSUs 20 turnovers in the first game and then had five more in the rematch.
Nittany Lions Roll
Penn State began Thursdays game against Northwestern with a 13-2 lead and never looked back. Geary Claxton led PSU with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Mike Walker and Travis Parker each 10 points, while Cornley finished with five points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes of work.
It was a lot easier than I thought, PSU coach Ed DeChellis said after the game.
The Nittany Lions have a chance to enjoy their first winning season since 2001.
The program is headed in a positive direction, said Parker, who averaged 11.9 points per game this year. We wanted to be the team that turned it around. This is the turning point right now. The coaches have done a good job with us this year.
But the Lions know they could have their hands full Friday with the Buckeyes.
Weve got to come out ready to play, said Claxton, who led PSU at 15.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this year. If we come out and play like we did today, were going to get blown out. We need to come out and work hard as a team and just have fun.
We have improved a lot since the last time we played them. It should be an interesting game and we just have to keep fighting.
DeChellis discussed the challenge his team faces and how his team has improved.
They are the number one seed, the coach said. They are a very good basketball team and Thad has done a great job with them.
I think were a little bit better defensively and a little better offensively. I think about three weeks ago we figured out how to share the ball. We started going inside-out a little bit more. Its more of a confidence thing. The kids played with confidence today. We had been off for eight days and we had three very good days of practice.
We know its a tough task to play the number one seed and a program like Ohio State. But I think the kids are looking forward to the challenge. We will show up and see what happens.
Cornley was not offered a scholarship by Ohio State. But he is eager to have a chance to play the Buckeyes for a third time as a freshman for the Lions.
I think its an honor, he said. I think its a blessing. There arent too many teams that will get this chance. Individually, I dont think many people get the chance to play against your hometown team on the big stage like this. Hopefully, we will come out with a lot of energy and take care of business.
The 6-6 Cornley was rewarded for his fine freshman season, when he averaged 11.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as an undersized power forward.
He discussed how PSU has improved over the course of the year.
Every game, we have gotten better, he said. We have become a lot more patient and made the extra pass. We pass up good shots for great shots now.
I think we can play with anybody. This Big Ten tournament is up for grabs. Yes, there are some favorites here and there. But at the same time, anybody can beat anybody. You have to match the other teams intensity and have a collective effort.
Cornley reflected on the second game against Ohio State.
Neither team got off, Cornley said. I was our leading scorer with 14 and I think their leader had 15. We just went a long period without scoring. We had some key turnovers. Its just a matter of executing.
On Wednesday, OSUs Sullinger told reporters he was pulling for Penn State to advance because of his friendship with Cornley. Cornley confirmed that he and Sullinger are good friends.
I talked to him on the Internet just last night, actually, Cornley said. Ive known J.J. since I was 7 or 8. It was through Coach (Bruce) Howard, who was the coach at Brookhaven. He had his Nike league. I hooked up with J.J. and his younger brother, Julian, who I am really close with. I also got to know Mr. (Satch) Sullinger, the father.
J.J. has just been a big brother to me whenever I have needed advice.
This marks the second time that Penn State has won an opening round game to advance to the BTT quarterfinals. Each time, PSU has won. The Lions defeated No. 1 seed Ohio State 71-66 in 2000 and No. 2 seed Michigan State in 2001.
No. 1 seeds are just 4-4 all-time against the eight-nine game winner in the quarterfinal round.
Ohio State is 20-13 all-time against Penn State. The Buckeyes have won six straight and nine of the last 10 meetings against PSU.
The teams met in the opening round of the BTT a year ago in Chicago. OSU, seeded sixth, barely got by 11th-seeded Penn State 72-69. OSU trailed 35-24 at halftime before embarking on a 27-7 second-half run. Tony Stockman had 25 points, Foster scored 13 and Sullinger tallied 11 for OSU. Parker had 21 points and Claxton had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Penn State.
The NCAA will hold a teleconference at 11 a.m. Friday to make a final announcement on OSUs infractions case. The Columbus Dispatch reported that university officials do not expect to see the NCAA issue another postseason ban. However, the school may have to vacate all records from the 1999-2002 seasons and repay some or all NCAA Tournament revenue from that period.