On Wednesday night, Ohio State rallied past a brief first-half deficit to overpower Penn State, 77-67, in State College.
With days remaining in the regular season, here's a handful of observations and things to think about before the Buckeyes play Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon in Columbus.
Ohio State was expected to beat Penn State, but it backed up the "too late for letdowns" talk it spoke of earlier in the week
Before the Buckeyes set out to State College, they talked of a new mindset with the regular season coming to an end. "Just like I said after Purdue, it’s too late for letdowns. Everyone in that locker room understands that it’s too late for letdowns,” said Sam Thompson, the senior forward.
“We can’t, in the month of March, come out and lay an egg the way that we did against Michigan. We all have a sense of urgency about us, we all know what’s at stake. It’s our job to go out and execute."
On Wednesday night, Ohio State backed up Thompson’s words up in a game that, for at least 20 minutes, looked like it might stumble on the road again. Instead, the Buckeyes beat the middling Nittany Lions, 77-67, and positioned themselves well for a showdown with Wisconsin on Sunday.
Why does it matter? Because we've heard the "it's too late for letdowns" thing before. We've heard it in past seasons and we heard it before Ohio State stubbed its too against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes probably don't deserve a huge pat on the back for beating a team that's now lost six straight games and eight of its last nine.
Another Big Night For Russell
We're at the point in the season where we're yawning when Russell scores 17 points and dishes out seven assists on any given night. It's become the norm for the Ohio State star freshman guard.
For the second game in a row, Russell poured in 28 points against Penn State after doing the same against Purdue last weekend.
It's the 14th time Russell has scored 20 or more points in a game.
Still Need More Loving
While Loving seems to be slowly assimilating back into his role on the court, the sophomore forward and team's best 3-point shooter still has yet to regain the shooting touch he had before a three-game suspension last month.
For Ohio State to alleviate offensive pressure on Russell, it needs Loving to regain an old form once the postseason comes into focus.
Otherwise, better teams are going to figure out ways to double and triple team Russell and force the other four Buckeyes on the court to help carry the load. One of them needs to be Loving, who has proven he can be a real force behind the arc.
Will Road Woes Translate to the Postseason?
Ohio State was able to overpower Penn State in State College, but the Buckeyes are 4-7 on the road. And while the Buckeyes ended up winning by a comfortable margin, they struggled in the first half.
For whatever reason (one that coach Thad Matta said eludes him), Ohio State has played significantly better within the confines of the Schottenstein Center than it has in opposing venues. Will those struggles translate to the postseason? Who knows. Maybe it’s all coincidental, maybe it’s the competition, maybe there’s factors X, Y, and Z that have made each road loss different.
But after the Buckeyes play Wisconsin, they won't have the comforts of home to buoy them any longer.
On Cusp of Greatness
With the win over Penn State, Matta tied Fred Taylor as the winningest coach in school history with 297 victories.
Of course, if Matta and Ohio State can defeat Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, he'll become the program's wins leader.
"David Egelhoff sent us a text message after the Purdue game, so we know," Thompson said of Matta's potential feat. He added: "There’s no added pressure."
At least not before Wednesday night. "No one wants to tie," Thompson said. "We’ll worry about that after Penn State."