On a day when Penn State classes were canceled due to heavy snow, the school's athletic department provided complimentary admission for students to the Nittany Lions' nationally televised game with No. 2 Ohio State at the Jordan Center Wednesday night.
And the young PSU fans were treated to one of the more incredible comebacks in program history, as the Nittany Lions overcame a 24-point second-half deficit and came this close to stunning the Buckeyes. Down 64-62, reserve guard Mike Walker had a top-of-the-key shot to win the game.
But it glanced off the neck of the rim and Penn State, loser of nine straight coming in, fell to 10-14 overall and 1-10 on the season. OSU improved to 23-3 and 11-1.
It was a great look, Walker said. It just didn't go in and that's how it goes sometimes.
We were very fortunate to come out of here with a win tonight, OSU coach Thad Matta added.
As marketing ploys go, the old free-ticket-to-combat-the-nasty-weather trick was a stroke of genius. Thousands of students took advantage of the offer -- attendance was listed at 10,027 -- and they were still streaming in as the ESPN game tipped just after 7 p.m. The Lions promptly fell flat on their faces, giving up a 33-4 first-half run and trailing by as many as 25 points in the opening period.
Ohio State battered Penn State from the arc, going 7 of 14 in the first half. And behind 7-foot-1 freshman Greg Oden, the Buckeyes battered the Lions in the paint, at one time during the big spurt going to the free throw line eight times in 40 seconds.
And OSU battered PSU on defense, limiting the Lions to four points in a 14-minute span while the game appeared to get out of hand. It was 40-19 at the break.
Oden goes high
for a rebound.
DeChellis didn't have to rip into his troops at the half. They felt terrible already. As sophomore forward Jamelle Cornley said, no one wants to be embarrassed on national TV.
There is no telling how many people changed the channel after Ohio State seized control. But back at the BJC, the majority of fans stayed put, much to DeChellis' relief.
I didn't know if we'd go back out there and the students would be gone, he admitted.
They weren't. And neither were the Nittany Lions, even after a Ron Lewis 3-pointer gave Ohio State a 50-26 lead five minutes into the second half. But PSU wisely kept collapsing on Oden, and when the Buckeye bombers went cold from the arc -- OSU was 2 of 11 on triples in the second half -- it gave the Lions a chance to mount a comeback.
The lead was 16 (56-40) at the 11:43 mark. It was 13 at 7:27. Then, when Cornley (layup), center Brandon Hassell (dunk) and Walker (3-pointer) hit consecutive buckets, it was eight (60-52) at 5:31.
For the first time since the losing streak began in early January, Penn State got its running game going, with forward Geary Claxton (19 points, 10 rebounds), as well as Cornley (14 points) and Hassell, making things happen in transition by beating the OSU big men down the floor.
Confidence was the biggest thing in the second half, Cornley said. We really thought we could win.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, lost their mojo. They made one field goal in the final 8:41, a Mike Conley Jr. floater that made it 63-57 with 1:13 to go.
We weren't ready to play, and [Penn State] had a lot to do with that, Matta said.
Walker countered the Conley buck with a 3-pointer and it was 63-60 with 50.3 showing. With only three personal fouls in the half, Penn State quickly committed three more in a row to get Ohio State near the bonus. Then Walker ran into Jamar Butler with 20.1 seconds left to set up a one and one, and the OSU guard made the first and missed the second.
Claxton was fouled at the other end and made both free throws to draw PSU within 64-62 with 11.6 to go. Then the Lions hacked Lewis, who missed the front end of a one and one, with PSU's Danny Morrissey clearing the long rebound.
Rather than call a timeout, the Lions went with the flow. Point guard Ben Luber passed inside to Claxton, who fired a pass out to Walker at the top of the key. He let the shot fly and the trajectory looked perfect. But it was just long. Time expired.
Though the loss hurt, the Nittany Lions took solace in proving they can compete with one of the nation's best programs. As Walker said, You look at the second half, and we just killed them.
Indeed, Penn State outscored OSU 43-24 in the final 20 minutes and 19-4 in the final 8:41, as the enthusiastic student section became louder and louder as the game got tighter and tighter leading up to Walker's big shot.
We're singing and dancing if that shot is half an inch shorter, DeChellis said.
Instead, in many ways it was the same old song and dance for the Nittany Lions. For the spirited student section, however, the action could not be beat. Same goes for the price of admission.
For a moment, it look as
if PSU would win.
Things don't get any easier for the Lions, who are at No. 3 Wisconsin Saturday before facing Ohio State in Columbus next Wednesday.
Oden had 15 points and 10 boards to lead four Buckeyes in double figures.
The Buckeyes did not arrive in State College until 12:30 p.m. due to weather-related travel issues. They must wait until Thursday morning to fly back to Columbus, as well.
After the game, Matta said he felt for Penn State. It's funny, some teams can catch a break and some teams can't. That's the best 10-14 basketball team I've ever seen.