NEW YORK CITY- Well, Penn State has done it again. For the third time this season the Nittany Lions upset the Ohio State Buckeyes, this time in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Penn State ended the game on a 7-0 run, culminating in a game-winning dunk by Josh Reaves with :03 seconds left off of a tremendous feed from Tony Carr to push the Nittany Lions over the top.
Three Penn State players finished in double figures, led by Carr’s 25 points, six rebounds, and five assists stat-line. Lamar Stevens added 15 and Shep Garner chipped in 13 points.
The Buckeyes could never pull away, with the Nittany Lions going on multiple runs in the second half to keep a lead. In a tie game, Penn State went on a 7-0 run to lead 50-45 with 17:40 remaining. After a Keita Bates-Diop three-pointer re-tied the game with 10:46 left, Penn State went on a 8-3 run to lead 57-52 with seven minutes remaining. Penn State last run, the most important, ended the game.
Bates-Diop matched Carr for 25 points of his, a team high for the Buckeyes. He was joined in double-figures by Kam Williams and Ja’Sean Tate who each scored 10 points.
Let’s see what we can takeaway from Friday’s game
What We Learned
Penn State clearly has OSU’s number
Not once, not twice, but three times did Penn State upset Ohio State. The first came on the road at the buzzer when Tony Carr’s heave from half-court banked it. The second, a dismantling at Bryce-Jordan Arena where the Nittany Lions won by 17. The third coming on Penn State’s last possession at Madison Square Garden in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals.
Doing it without Mike Watkins the third time was impressive.
But what have the Nittany Lions figured out that only Michigan, being the only other team in the conference to defeat Ohio State, has. To beat the Buckeyes, you have to out-shoot them, especially from behind the arc.
In their three games against Ohio State, Penn State has shot 78 percent, 45 percent, and 47 percent from behind the arc, all bettering the numbers that the Buckeyes put up in those games. Friday evening Tony Carr and Shep Garner were lethal behind the arc finishing a combined 7-of-13. That was enough to send the Nittany Lions to Saturday’s semi-final round.
Offensive rebounds ended the Buckeyes
In a game the ends with a single-digit outcome or on the final possession, search the hustle categories of the losing team says a lot of why they fell short. For Ohio State, they did not box out.
14 Nittany Lions offensive rebounds led to 18 second-chance points, seven more than Ohio State’s eleven. Forward John Harrar and guard Nazeer Bostick were the two biggest beneficiaries securing four and three offensive boards respectively.
To accomplish this stat without the help of Watkins says a lot of Penn State’s will, toughness, and desire to achieve their goals. They would not have grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, the same amount that the Nittany Lions combined to have in their first two games against Ohio State, if they didn’t.
Where on the bubble are the Nittany Lions
Will three wins against the Buckeyes be enough for Penn State to find its way back into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Maybe. Their loss against Nebraska in their final game really hurts, so does a non-conference home loss to Rider. But the win against Ohio State inches them a little bit closer.
If you look at the resume of the Nittany Lions no other wins stick out. They had a shot at home against Michigan...did not convert. They had a shot on the road against Purdue...and did not convert. But they once again sit on a chance to push them over the top. A potential win againt the Boilermakers on Saturday should do that. But first Purdue has their own work to do against Rutgers.
With a in-state rivalry game and a team clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes playing in win-or-go-home scenarios, Saturday’s semi-finals will be must-watch television.
It is starting to look like that Ohio State is beginning to peak. A team that once had a stranglehold on the Big Ten could not close it out after dropping two of their last four regular season contests. What once was a one of the favorites to cut down the nets in MSG are headed home earlier than expect. And a team that was a projected 4-seed in the tournament tis beginning to fall.
Ohio State’s ceiling was once a potential final four contender. That was when the Buckeyes had won 11 of their first 12 conference games, including wins against both Michigan State and Purdue. If they continue to flounder in the NCAA Tournament, they may not make it to the second weekend.
Penn State is a great story. They had the pieces to be a tournament team. Last year they were young and under-achieved. This season they grew up. And whether they end up on a seed line on Selection Sunday or play for the NIT, this will be a projected tournament team next season as they continue to grow under as a team under Pat Chambers.