Ohio State waited all season for Thursday's performance.
The Buckeyes dominated Wisconsin from start to finish, leading by as many as 20 points before the game ended with a final score of 83-73. Ohio State coach Thad Matta said it was his team's "most consistent effort, for sure" of the entire season and, for anybody who watched, it would be tough to disagree.
|Penn State (14-15, 6-10 B1G)||Bryce Jordan Center (State College, Penn.)||8:30 p.m.||BTN|
It begged a question that needed to be asked: Why couldn't the Buckeyes play like that more often?
For Ohio State, it was probably a little too late. For a team that sits just 16-13 on the season and 6-10 in the Big Ten with only two regular-season games remaining, the Buckeyes likely need to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA tournament. An at-large bid just doesn't seem like a realistic possibility at this point.
But Ohio State will certainly look to build on its last performance to close out the regular-season and the next step in that comes Tuesday night when the Buckeyes play their final road game of the season: an 8:30 p.m. matchup at Penn State.
"We just have to win," point guard JaQuan Lyle said Monday. "I feel like we have to win every game."
Let's break down the matchup between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions a bit further.
Like many of the teams at the bottom of the Big Ten, Penn State has had some bright spots this season. The Nittany Lions have league wins over Michigan State, Minnesota and Maryland.
Much like Ohio State, however, a big issue for Penn State this year has been consistency. The Nittany Lions have been a bit up-and-down in conference play and they enter Tuesday night's game on a three-game losing streak. Penn State lost on the road at Minnesota on Saturday in its last game, 81-71.
The Nittany Lions are led by a crop of young talent. A pair of freshmen, Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, lead the way. Carr averages a team-high 14.7 points per game in Big Ten play while Stevens is second with 12.5 points per game. Junior forward Payton Banks (10.1 ppg. in Big Ten play) and junior guard Shep Garner (9.8 ppg.) round out Penn State's balanced offensive attack.
“They’re not as structured [as Wisconsin]. They’re more space, drive, high ball-screen, attacking," Matta said. "These guys here are a little bit like a Nebraska in terms of ball screens, spacing and transition and trying to get to the paint.”
According to Ken Pomeroy's advanced statistical ratings, the Nittany Lions rank No. 43 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (96.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) and 159th in adjusted offensive efficiency (105.5 points per 100 possessions). In Big Ten play, Penn State allows 101.8 points per 100 possessions (sixth in the league) while scoring just 96.5 points per 100 possessions (13th in the conference).
“I think this: [head coach] Pat [Chambers] is doing a tremendous job there," Matta said. "They’ve got some really, really good basketball players. I go back to some of the games we’ve had over there that have just come down to gut-wrenching finishes and more than likely we’ll see the same thing tomorrow night. We’ve had some tremendous battles over there."
After being embarrassed by 23 points in the first meeting with Wisconsin, Ohio State certainly returned the favor Thursday night. The Buckeyes dismantled a team that was fighting to keep its top spot in the Big Ten.
Led by C.J. Jackson's career-high 18 points, Ohio State put four players in double figures. The Buckeyes got contributions from just about everybody who checked into the game.
"One of the biggest things we did against Wisconsin is we didn’t get rattled when they made a shot," Matta said. "We came down and still executed and scored. There was a stretch there when we traded some baskets which, for us, was a good thing because we were ahead. I thought we took a couple blows in the second half and responded the way we needed to.”
Now sitting at 6-10 in Big Ten play, Ohio State still has some work to do if it wants to avoid playing on the opening day of the Big Ten tournament. The Buckeyes' final two games are against a pair of teams — Penn State and Indiana — with equal conference records entering Tuesday. Should Ohio State win both, it'll likely avoid having to play Wednesday in Washington D.C.
There are currently four teams — Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana and Nebraska — who sit at 6-10 in the league. Illinois is currently 7-9 and Iowa is 8-8. There are still plenty of scenarios that could come into play when it comes time for conference tournament seeding at the end of this week.
For now, though, the Buckeyes' focus is solely on Tuesday.
"We’re pretty much just taking it one game at a time," freshman wing Andre Wesson said. "Gonna try and get this one at Penn State and then focus on Indiana.”
How It Plays Out
As losers of three straight, Penn State is more than due for a win. The Nittany Lions have not lost four-straight games all season.
KenPom projects a victory for Penn State and gives the Nittany Lions a 56 percent chance to win on their home floor. It's a projected two-point triumph for Penn State.
Whenever Ohio State goes on the road, it's impossible to predict what team will show up. This is the final road contest of the season for the Buckeyes, who are just 2-6 on the road in Big Ten play.
If Ohio State plays anywhere close to where it did against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes should be fine. A step back is the more likely scenario, however, which is why we see this game as another one that comes down to the wire.
Still, for some reason, we think Ohio State finds a way to get it done.
Tim's prediction: Ohio State 72, Penn State 68