What Ohio State's Surprising Loss to Penn State Means As The Regular Season Winds Down

By James Grega on February 15, 2018 at 11:09 pm
Jae'Sean Tate
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Much like this entire season, no one saw that coming. 

Ohio State losing wouldn't have come as too much of a surprise on Thursday night, but the way the Buckeyes lost to Penn State was nothing short of a shocker. 

Chris Holtmann's team was thumped 79-56 in State College, Pa., on Thursday night, the first true road loss of the season for Ohio State. That last part of the sentence, however, is the reason not all is lost for the Buckeyes, despite the embarrassing loss. 

If anyone would have told you in July that Holtmann's first Ohio State team would enter mid-February without a true road loss and a full-game lead in the Big Ten conference, you would have laughed in their face and walked away. Yet here we are, and the Buckeyes still control their own destiny for the top overall seed in the conference tournament and a share of the Big Ten crown. That, of course, is thanks to Ohio State holding the tiebreaker over Michigan State and Purdue suffering its third straight loss, to Wisconsin, also on Thursday night. 

However, that is not to sugarcoat what happened in Happy Valley. Ohio State has issues.

For starters, the Buckeyes were out-hustled for seemingly every loose ball, every 50-50 rebound and had little to no energy for the majority of the game. This is a concern because as you know, energy and hustle have become a staple of Holtmann's team and for much of the season, their identity. 

The second straight loss to Penn State also magnifies Ohio State's biggest flaws in terms of their roster. The Buckeye guards struggle to hang with longer, more athletic guards, as Tony Carr scored 58 points in two games against the Buckeyes this season, getting almost any shot he wanted from any spot on the floor. Come tournament time, the Buckeyes will see plenty more players like Carr, and will need to figure out a way to limit the offensive production. 

Ohio State's grip on the Big Ten lead slipped a bit on Thursday, but the Buckeyes could lose their grip entirely if they don't regroup – and fast. Holtmann's squad has to travel to Michigan on Sunday to take on a Wolverine squad that surely has revenge on its mind after Ohio State came from 20 points down to defeat its rival, 71-62, in early December. 

Much like Penn State, the Wolverines have stellar guard play, as Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews both provide Michigan with long, athletic bodies on the perimeter. It would be easy to assume that Holtmann will stick with Andre Wesson in the starting role, but Ohio State might need Kam Williams' scoring boost to hang with a Michigan team that can roll up points in a hurry at home. 

A loss to Michigan, no matter the score, would be more devastating than the loss to Penn State on Thursday night. That said, the loss to the Nittany Lions could be the turning point in the year many thought the Purdue game would be for other reasons. 

When the Buckeyes lost to Penn State the first time around, it was on a last-second, desperation heave. This time, they were dominated in every facet of the game. Once again, Holtmann will need to rely on Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate to rally the troops like they have all season. This time, however, could be different, as both players struggled mightily against the Nittany Lions and could be prone to getting down themselves. 

The loss by Ohio State isn't the end of the world. Everything the Buckeyes had in front of them to win before Thursday night is still in front of them. It's what happens next that will define them. 

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