INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State tried to stage another Big Ten Tournament insurgency following two unexpected wins a season ago. But Ohio State, potentially fighting for its NCAA tournament life, got the win it needed to set up a game it needs to win.
The Nittany Lions led by double digits in the first half, but the Buckeyes roared back then roared ahead and then fended off a late roar in order to hold on for a 79-75 win.
The win sent Ohio State to a Friday showdown with Michigan State on Day 3 of the Big Ten Tournament.
The teams played close throughout the early stages of the first half, but it was Penn State that took the first sizable lead, breaking away from a three-point deficit around the 10-minute mark with a 10-0 run featuring 3-pointers from Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor. After Ohio State stopped the run, Shep Garner knocked down another 3, and not long after that, back-to-back triples from Garner and Jack gave the Lions a 10-point lead. Altogether it was a 20-7 surge by Penn State that built the double-digit lead with four minutes before halftime. But in those four minutes, the Buckeyes shot back, Marc Loving hitting four straight free throws and then a 3 after a JaQuan Lyle bucket to bring Ohio State within a point, and it was just a three-point halftime edge for Penn State.
Garner and Taylor each scored 12 in the first 20 minutes, the Lions shooting 51.9 percent from the field in the half. Loving had 13 in the first half for the Buckeyes.
After whittling the Penn State lead down to nearly nothing before the break, Ohio State exploded out of halftime, using a 14-0 run to fly out to a nine-point advantage. Loving hit a pair of triples on the run, and Keita Bates-Diop added one, too, with the Lions going about four minutes without a made basket during the Buckeyes' surge. The lead fluctuated between three and nine for the majority of the half, sitting at seven with eight minutes to play. Penn State outscored Ohio State, 8-2, over the ensuing three minutes to get the lead down to just one. With five minutes left, Kam Williams and Payton Banks traded 3-pointers, and a pair of Garner free throws gave the Lions their first lead since the early stages of the half. But Loving hit three consecutive free throws before Lyle scored back-to-back buckets, all in all a 7-0 jolt for the Buckeyes, who hung on from there for the victory.
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Ohio State had a big second half, shooting 54.2 percent from the field. The Buckeyes won the rebounding battle, 41-33, and had a staggering 39 free-throw attempts, making 26 of them.
Penn State had a big edge in bench points, 23-5, and knocked down nine 3-pointers, nearly double Ohio State's five makes from deep.
Loving and Lyle dominated, scoring 24 and 22 points, respectively. Loving made three 3s and went 13-for-15 from the free-throw line. Bates-Diop finished with 14 points, and Trevor Thompson scored 10.
Garner had 25 points to lead all scorers, with Jack adding 18 points and Taylor scoring 14.
Ohio State could still conceivably reach the field of 68 with a strong showing here in Indy. That was made possible by Thursday's win, but everything hinges on Friday's game against Michigan State, which will be the third meeting between those two teams in 17 days after the Spartans won the first two meetings by double figures. Thursday's win was the Buckeyes' 20th of the season.
Penn State's season is likely over, though it was not one to simply shrug off as the Lions won the most games in a single season they have since Patrick Chambers took over the program.