NEW YORK CITY – With Ohio State holding a one-point lead in the final seconds, it looked as though the Buckeyes were finally going to get by Penn State, under the brightest of basketball lights.
Then, Tony Carr did what he does best; find a way to beat the Scarlet and Gray.
After scoring 25 points, Carr had the ball in his hands for the final possession. Instead of taking the shot over Andrew Dakich, Carr whipped a pass over the head of Dakich and C.J. Jackson to the waiting arms of Josh Reaves, who sent in a two-handed slam that sent Ohio State home early from the Big Ten Tournament in its first game for the second straight season. The Nittany Lions however, advance to the semifinals of the conference tournament with a 69-68 victory over the Buckeyes.
"I was expecting (Carr) to do what he had been doing all game," Jackson, who was guarding Reaves on the play, said after the game. "I lost sight of my man for a split second, and that unfortunately gave them the game-winning basket."
It is hard to fault Jackson for keying in to help on Carr. The first-team All-Big Ten guard dropped 83 points in three games against Ohio State this season, and connected on 9-of-17 shots (4-of-7 from three-point range) on Friday night. On the final possession though, it was a pass that sent the Buckeyes packing.
"I don't want to see Tony Carr again," Dakich said, half-jokingly, in the postgame locker room. "It's just matchups. He is on draft boards for a reason. You just have to make it as hard as possible for him. He is going to get his points."
Carr has gotten his points all season. He entered the conference tournament averaging 19.6 points per game, best in the Big Ten. He has scored 25 points in each of Penn State's two conference tournament wins this week, setting up a semifinal appearance on Saturday night from Madison Square Garden.
For Ohio State, last year's loss in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament ultimately ended its season, as the Buckeyes were not selected for any postseason tournament. This season however is different, as Ohio State is one of four projected Big Ten teams to join the NCAA Tournament.
Until Carr's pass to Reaves for the game winner, it finally looked like not only had Ohio State beaten the Nittany Lions, but that Keita Bates-Diop had finally out-dueled Carr. Carr outscored Bates-Diop by just three in the first matchup, but scored 30 to Bates-Diop's 10 in a 79-56 loss on Feb. 15. On Friday, both players dropped 25, but it was Carr that walked off victorious.
Ultimately, Penn State appears to be just a tough matchup for an Ohio State team that has already accomplished so much this season, including a second place finish in the Big Ten regular season. Head coach Chris Holtmann said that while the Nittany Lions provide his team with unique challenges that push Ohio State more than others, the experiences of taking on elite players like Carr could help prepare them for a run in the NCAA Tournament.
"Those are the two things we really struggle with with them is their collective athleticism and their guard play," Holtmann said. "That has been a hard thing for us to manage with that group. Hopefully it will get us ready (for the NCAA Tournament)."