Basketball Preview: Ohio State Vies For Its Second Win Against Penn State, Who Has Won Four of Its Last Six

By Griffin Strom on January 16, 2022 at 7:05 am
Zed Key
Matthew O’Haren – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State learned Thursday that beating a team a second time is no easy feat.

The Buckeyes couldn’t pull it off in their second meeting with Wisconsin in a little over a month, but they’ll have the luxury of home court advantage when they vie for a repeat victory against Penn State at noon on Sunday.

Penn State (8-6, 3-3 B1G) Schottenstein Center Noon BTN

Micah Shrewsberry’s first Penn State team is 8-6 on the year so far and .500 in Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions lost to the Buckeyes, 76-64, at home on Dec. 5, but have rattled off four wins in six games since then. Penn State’s two losses during that stretch are nothing to scoff at, with one being a road defeat to current No. 10 Michigan State and the other just a seven-point loss to then-No. 3 Purdue.

Penn State has three wins over Big Ten teams in that stretch, with victories over Indiana, Northwestern and Rutgers all coming since the start of 2022. The Nittany Lions’ Jan. 2 win over the Hoosiers is particularly eyebrow-raising for the Buckeyes, who were blown out by Trayce Jackson-Davis and company just 10 days ago.

"They're gonna fight you for everything," Ohio State assistant coach Ryan Pedon said Saturday. "I think they have a real chip on their shoulder, they play like they're trying to prove something, like they're a bunch of underdogs. I think that's the mentality that their coach is forming."

Ohio State has suffered two defeats in a week-and-a-half, and will try to bounce back from the Wisconsin loss with its second win this season against a Penn State team it is favored to handle at home.

What to Watch For

Improved 3-point shooting for Ohio State

Ohio State is coming off its worst collective 3-point shooting performance in three years. The Buckeyes knocked down just three of their 19 attempts against Wisconsin, a 15.8 percent mark that stands as Ohio State’s worst since March 6, 2019. Ohio State hit four times that many 3-pointers in the first game against Penn State, and needs to be sharper from beyond the arc to earn another win over the Nittany Lions.

Home court haven

The Buckeyes’ Dec. 5 win over Penn State might have been their best road performance of the year, but besides that, Ohio State has performed significantly better at home this year. The Buckeyes are still unbeaten at the Schottenstein Center. Coming off of two road losses in the past 10 days, Ohio State should be pleased to get a three-game home stand over the next week. In losses at Xavier, at Indiana and at Wisconsin, Ohio State simply looked off, while home wins against Duke and Wisconsin have brought the best out of the Buckeyes.

New-look Nittany Lion lineup

Since losing to the Buckeyes, Penn State has inserted previously injured 6-foot-9 transfer forward Greg Lee into its starting lineup, moving third-leading scorer Sam Sessoms (11.9 points per game) to the bench. Lee, who made stops at Cal State Bakersfield and Western Michigan before landing in Happy Valley, is averaging 6.8 points and six boards for the Nittany Lions in five games, and adds size and length to Penn State’s starting frontcourt that it did not possess before. Ohio State forward Zed Key said the difference has been tangible in film study.

“Penn State is a totally different team than when we played them in the beginning of the year," Key said. "They play faster, they play harder, they have some different pieces. They’re a really good team coming in on Sunday to beat us, so we just got to be ready.”

Potential for low Penn State point total

No team in the Big Ten has scored fewer points per game than Penn State. The Nittany Lions have still won more games than they’ve lost this season, as they also have the third-best scoring defense in the Big Ten (65 points per game), but their 67.2 points per game are dead last in the league. Penn State has only scored more than 69 points two times in its last 10 games, and the Nittany Lions scored just 64 points in the first meeting with the Buckeyes. If there’s one stat that could undercut this possibility, it’s that Ohio State has allowed an average of 82.5 points per game to its last two opponents.

Three Important Buckeyes

E.J. Liddell

It’s been an interesting stretch for Liddell of late. The first two games back from Ohio State’s COVID-19 pause were his worst of the season. The next one after that was the highest-scoring performance of his career. In Thursday’s loss to Wisconsin, Liddell was hardly noticeable on the court in the first half, but nearly led the Buckeyes to an improbable comeback in the second. Ohio State could use a bit more consistency out of Liddell, although his best performances do seem to happen at home.

Jamari Wheeler

Last time out against his former teammates, Wheeler had a tangible uptick in intensity and energy on the court for Ohio State. It resulted in one of the better performances of the early part of the season for Wheeler, who finished with nine points, eight assists, five boards and five three steals. Now that he’s gotten even more comfortable playing with the Buckeyes, look for an even bigger game from the former Nittany Lion.

Kyle Young

Young has been piecing together marginally better performances since returning from an illness that extended his own mid-year hiatus longer than the Buckeyes’ own, and his 10-point effort against Wisconsin was his best in more than a month. Ohio State has played around with moving Young into the starting lineup – or at least starting the second half, in the case of the Wisconsin game – and keeping an eye on his usage will be interesting. Young had 16 points in the last game against Penn State, so this might be the contest for him to truly get back into form.

Three Important Nittany Lions

Player Position Height Weight Stats
MYLES DREAD G 6-4 235 5.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG
JALEN PICKETT G 6-4 202 13.4 PPG, 4.4 APG
SETH LUNDY F 6-6 217 14.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG
GREG LEE F 6-9 217 6.8 PPG, 6 RPG
JOHN HARRAR F 6-9 240 11.1 PPG, 10 RPG

Seth Lundy

Seemingly always primed for a big performance against the Buckeyes, Penn State’s leading scorer is averaging 14.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game so far this season. The 6-foot-6 wing got hot early in the last meeting with Ohio State, but his output tapered off later on as the Buckeyes pulled out the win. The Buckeyes’ wings will no doubt know where Lundy is at all times on the floor Sunday, though, given his penchant for putting up points on the scarlet and gray.

UPDATE: Lundy will not be available for the Nittany Lions Sunday.

Jalen Pickett

Despite Lundy’s hot start against the Buckeyes on Dec. 5, it was senior guard Jalen Pickett who truly torched Ohio State throughout the last meeting. Pickett finished with 23 against the Buckeyes, knocking down 6-of-8 shots from inside the 3-point arc, and the Siena transfer has not slowed down. Pickett is averaging 16.3 points in the six games following that matchup, and is second only to Lundy with an average of 13.4 on the season.

"The ball is in his hands a lot more than it was in Game 1. That's obvious to me," Pedon said. "I think he's a really good decision-maker. He's an experienced guy, scored a lot of points in his college career before he got to Penn State. I like his basketball character; he's about the right things."

John Harrar

The fifth-year senior forward is one of only two Big Ten players (along with Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn) averaging a double-double this season with averages of 11.1 points and 10 boards per game. Still maintaining a 70 percent field-goal percentage through 14 games, Harrar had 12 and 12 in the last matchup with the Buckeyes.

How It Plays Out

Line: Ohio State -8.5, O/U 136.5

Penn State will have more size, length and depth with the addition of Lee, and Pickett's emergence as even more of a scoring threat in the last seven games has given the Nittany Lions another dimension as well. But while the Buckeyes may find themselves in another tight game late, I like Ohio State at home, where it has played its best ball this season.

Prediction: Ohio State 76, Penn State 69

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