Ohio State Notches First Conference Win With 76-64 Road Victory Over Penn State

By Griffin Strom on December 5, 2021 at 9:31 pm

Ohio State’s first foray into Big Ten play proved successful Sunday, as the Buckeyes side-stepped a potential letdown loss with a win against Penn State to kickstart conference competition.

The Buckeyes notched their first true road win of the season, walking off the floor at the Bryce Jordan Center with a 76-64 victory against the Nittany Lions to add to the momentum they built this past Tuesday with an upset win over top-ranked Duke.

Team 1 2 FINAL
OHIO STATE 41 35 76
PENN STATE 30 34 64

Ohio State manufactured a double-digit lead by halftime and pushed it to an 18-point advantage in the second half, but Penn State managed to slice that down to a single-digit edge in the final minutes. But on a night that featured a wide range of meaningful contributions from the Buckeyes’ supporting cast, Ohio State hung on in the end with the help of some big plays from several players.

With Ohio State ahead just six points with 2:15 to play, Justin Ahrens knocked down a 3-pointer to extend the lead out near double digits once again, and the senior captain picked up a steal on the other end. Penn State was forced to foul several times late, but Ohio State knocked down its free throws to seal the victory. The Buckeyes closed the game out on a 6-0 run in the final 41 seconds, including four straight makes from the free-throw line.

“We had a stretch where we knew, certainly, they were going to come at us – that’s a sign of a good team and a well-coached team – and they did, they pushed us,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said after the game. “We made a couple threes there to take it from a two-possession game to a three-possession game and a four-possession game, which I think were really big plays. So I give our guys credit for that. Good environment, I give our guys credit for responding. We can do some things better, but all in all, great first Big Ten win here.”

Former Penn State point guard Jamari Wheeler had his best game in a scarlet and gray uniform during his first return to Happy Valley, Kyle Young had a season-high scoring total with 16 points and no show-stopping performance was required from E.J. Liddell for a change as nine different Ohio State players scored during the win. Liddell didn’t hit a shot from the floor until the 1:18 mark of the first half, but that didn’t stop the Buckeyes from picking up a win on the road.

Penn State made the first big run of the first half, scoring 12 straight points after an opening pair of baskets from the Buckeyes, and nine of them came from Nittany Lion scoring leader Seth Lundy alone. Lundy had 26 points against Ohio State in the first of two matchups between the programs last season, and scored 11 by halftime on Sunday.

“Lundy has always bothered us," Holtmann said. "Every time we’ve played him.”

The Buckeyes fired back with three 3-pointers in a 1:19 stretch thereafter, and by the 12:14 mark, Ohio State had taken a 19-15 lead with the help of a 14-3 run. The first points of the game from the Buckeyes’ two scoring leaders, Liddell and Zed Key, did not come until the latter stages of the half, but four straight points from Ohio State’s starting forwards pushed the Buckeye lead to 10 points, 31-21, with 5:20 to play.

76 POINTS 64
27-53 (50.9) FGM-FGA (PCT.) 23-51 (45.1%)
12-27 (44.4%) 3PM-3PA (PCT.) 5-17 (29.4%)
10-12 (83.3%) FTM-FTA (PCT.) 13-15 (86.7%)

Ohio State’s largest lead of the opening period came courtesy of back-to-back baskets from freshman guard Malaki Branham, who gave the Buckeyes a 35-23 advantage with 3:05 to play, and a putback layup by Liddell on his own miss in the waning seconds of the half kept Ohio State up 11 by the halftime buzzer.

Liddell had just six points in the opening stanza, but Ohio State’s star forward got plenty of help from his teammates early. Eight different Buckeyes scored in the first half, as Young led the way with eight points, and Wheeler and Branham each added seven apiece. Ohio State’s bench scored 16 points in the first half to Penn State’s two, and the Buckeyes shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. Ohio State hit seven of its first 12 3-pointers, including two from Young, and six different Buckeyes knocked down triples in the first half. 

The Nittany Lions hit just four of their final 14 shots to close out the opening half.

With three straight makes to open the second half, including a second 3-pointer from Ahrens, Ohio State blew the game open to a game-high 16-point lead. A Wheeler steal and subsequent fastbreak layup 98 seconds later put the Buckeyes up 52-34, and the Buckeyes were rolling in State College.

Penn State managed to cut the game down to a seven-point deficit with the clock ticking under four minutes as Ohio State went ice cold from the floor, but a huge three from Meechie Johnson put the Buckeyes back ahead by 10 on the other end with 3:53 to go. A dunk from Liddell extended the Buckeyes’ lead to eight points once again with 41 seconds to play, and Ohio State closed things out with some clutch free-throw shooting late.

“It was kind of a situation where our guys made some shots," Holtmann said. "I’m not saying it just boiled down to that. I thought we were able to get some stops when we needed to. We had trouble getting to the foul line, they only had two fouls with about five or six minutes to go. We needed to be a little bit more forceful in our play to get to the foul line earlier. I thought that hurt us a little bit."

Lundy scored just two points in the second half, and Penn State guard Jalen Pickett led the way with 23 points for the Nittany Lions, including 13 in the second half.

Liddell finished with 14 points and Branham scored 11 to give Ohio State three scorers in double digits, and Wheeler came close with a nine-point effort in which he also dished nine assists, pulled down five boards and came up with three steals.

“I give Jamari a lot of credit," Holtmann said. "I think he expected the crowd to obviously give him some attention. I know there was some positive things said to him as well, which I know he appreciated. He loves this place, so I know it was an emotional game for him in a lot of ways. What he’s been for us is just a really consistent every day guy, a really consistent worker who’s consumed with winning, and you can’t have too many of those guys on your team.”

What’s next: Ohio State returns home for a meeting with Towson at 9 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center on Wednesday.

Other Notes

  • Ohio State guard Jamari Wheeler played his first game at the Bryce Jordan Center as a Nittany Lion opponent Sunday, as the former four-year Penn State point guard transferred out of the program this offseason.
  • Sophomore guard Eugene Brown was cleared to play against Penn State for his first appearance for the Buckeyes since Nov. 18, when he suffered a blow to the head against Xavier that forced him to miss the next three games due to concussion protocol.
  • Chris Holtmann missed this past Friday’s practice due to a non-COVID-19 illness, but traveled with the team and coached against the Nittany Lions Sunday.
  • Ohio State won both its games against Penn State a season ago, including an 83-79 win on Jan. 27 and a 92-82 win on the road on Feb. 18. 
  • The Buckeyes entered the matchup with a 38-18 lead over Penn State in the all-time series between the two teams.
View 78 Comments