In the first half, I honestly thought Penn State was going to push their way to Friday for the second year in a row and end the Buckeyes dreams of jumping off their bubble and into a seeded NCAA Tournament bracket. And while the Nittany Lions put on an impressive offensive display throughout the night, their defensive efforts ended up being extremely suspect.
And Ohio State took advantage of it.
Let's take a look at what we learned from this "more intriguing than I anticipated" 7-seed vs. 10-seed matchup:
1a. JaQuan Lyle drives towards the hoop with his chin up
Where my Dakich haters at?
1b. JaQuan Lyle should have Buckeyes fans pumped up for bright future
I am an admitted Lyle apologist. Hell, I've probably been borderline in love with him since I saw his highlight tape a long time ago. But my lord did he put on a show against Penn State. He was so damn strong, gutting his way into the lane at will. He didn't care who was in front of him and it honestly didn't matter. He wasn't going to be stopped by anyone Pat Chambers threw at him.
I hate to admit this, but Dakich was actually right with his assessments on the Ohio State point guard. Lyle does such a phenomenal job staying with the ball when he plays in traffic and it consistently baffles me as to how balanced he stays while in the air.
But what was the most impressive part of his overall game was the big plays he made down the stretch in the second half. He wasn't playing like the freshman that got benched earlier in the season.
With the Buckeyes down 56-52 and a little over ten minutes left in the game, Lyle led the Ohio State comeback by scoring 13 of the teams 23 points. He did it by getting to the rack, converting tough layups and punishing the "stay fouling" Penn State roster. It was a site to see.
On the night, Lyle finished with a line of 22 points, five assists, ten rebounds and three steals.
I may have jumped the gun early on this kid, but after what I saw tonight, I don't doubt that he will be the best point guard in the Big Ten very, very soon.
Fouling was a BIG problem for Penn State
Pat Chambers summed it up best at the half when he said that his team needed to play smarter, stay in their stance and stay on the floor if they plan on advancing to Friday.
But as they say, you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?
Not so much as the Lions got called for 27 personal fouls which resulted in 39-free throw attempts for Ohio State. That is a catastrophically giant number. There was a point where Thad Matta just sent ball handlers towards the rim late in the first and second half, knowing the odds were ever in his favor of his players drawing a foul because of how frustratingly undisciplined Penn State was playing on defense.
And in the end, the Buckeyes made 26-total freebies to the Nittany Lions 14. It's what kept Ohio State in the game in the first half. And what ultimately killed the Lions deep in the second.
Thad Matta's Big Ten run is absolutely outrageous
In the 16-years Thad Matta has been a head coach, he's never, ever, ever finished with less than 20 wins.
Let that marinate for a minute. 16 seasons of twenty wins or more. That's absolutely incredible.
Pat Chambers is on the brink of breaking through
There is something I noticed during this game that I hadn't before: Pat Chambers' energy and enthusiasm as a head coach is quite remarkable. There is just something about him that made me want to run through a wall and I was sitting on my couch.
After the game was over -- and before I started writing this piece -- I started thinking about all of the good things he was able to do down the stretch in the Big Ten slate (five wins in their last eight games heading into the Big Ten Tournament including victories against Indiana and Iowa), as well as what he's been able to do on the recruiting trail, and I truly believe Penn State is turning the corner.
And I know I'm not alone.
Ultimately, this game -- as heartbreaking as it was -- showed yet again the leaps and bounds this program has taken under his tutelage. Remember, back in January, this same Buckeyes team used them as a door mat, with a blowout 66-46 victory.
Tonight, while the end result wasn't what they were ultimately hoping for, it was still a statement game for Chambers and company. Penn State came out swinging. They came out strong. Positive. With something to prove. Something to fight for.
It was quite inspiring to think for the first time in my adult life that Penn State basketball should no longer be taken lightly.