The Sports Page: Buckeyes Tame Lions, Remain Unbeaten at Home
You know how sometimes an underdog team comes into hostile territory, plays beyond their ability, and wins to the delight of “the little guy” everywhere? This was not one of those times. The #4 Ohio State University Buckeyes showed why they are the class of the Big Ten Wednesday night with an emphatic 78-54 victory over the visiting Penn State Nittany Lions.
With the win Ohio State moves to 18-3 overall with a 6-2 conference record. The Lions drop to 10-12 and 2-7 against the Big Ten.
The Scarlet and Gray came out red hot quickly grabbing an 8-0 lead. It took 4:58 for the Nittany Lions to even crack the scoreboard but by then the game was mostly ceremonial. The Buckeyes had no trouble working the ball inside to sophomore Jared Sullinger who finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Junior guard Tim Frazier managed 16 points for the Nittanies but he was for the most part a one-man band.
After the game, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers summed it up nicely, “Going on the road in the Big Ten is absolutely brutal.” The Lions are living proof of that fact, dragging a 1-7 road record in their wake. Making matters worse for PSU, Ohio State has won its past 37 consecutive home games. This marks the second longest home win streak in OSU history, behind only Fred Taylor’s teams’ 50 between 1959 and 1964. This game was almost never in doubt at the Bucks held the lead wire to wire.
Part of the problem for PSU was the team’s shooting struggles. They finished 31.3% from the field and the same figure from behind the arc. The Lions were pushed around in the key and were unable to capitalize on several early offensive rebounds.
Approaching intermission, Aaron Craft was part of one of the more peculiar plays of the year. Already leading 35-15, the sophomore point guard spotted Sam Thompson cutting toward the basket and lofted a thirty-plus foot alley oop pass that neither alley’d nor oop’d before splashing through the net for three. After the game, Craft simply called it a lucky shot. Thompson however joked that the play “went according to plan.” “I was kind of like a decoy during the play.” When asked about Craft’s shot, Coach Thad Matta deadpanned, “We called it on the fly, we were in transition; how they heard me I’m not exactly sure. When you practice that stuff and see it executed in a game, it makes you feel good as a coach.” The Buckeyes were the only ones feeling good at halftime with a 38-18 lead.
Sophomore Jared Sullinger commented after the game that “There is no off night in the Big Ten.” Even with Penn State coming in unheralded the Buckeyes still played hard and earned the victory. This win was as much a result of bench play as the starters, an uncommon occurrence for Matta-coached teams in recent years. The bench accounted for 23 points in the game compared to only ten for Penn State. The Nittanies showed some spirit in the second half, doubling their first period output. However, their combined offensive inadequacies as well as the Bucks’ staunch defense kept them out of this game.
The Buckeyes outperformed the Lions in almost every quantifiable category. OSU outrebounded 43-35, outassisted 16-7, outblocked 8-2, and outshot the Lions 50-31.3%. William Buford played well with 15 points, nine rebounds, and two assists. He also shot three of six from beyond the arc, an area where Ohio State has struggled this season. Thompson also played a good game off the bench in a scant 17 minutes (6 pts, 2 reb, 3 ast) Coach Matta spoke about him after the game, “For as young as he is he gets it. He had a great practice [on Tuesday]…It appears that he is understanding his length and athleticism.”
Ohio State did not win because of a lucky bounce or a blown call. The Buckeyes won because simply put, they are better at playing basketball than Penn State’s players. This is a powerhouse team, ranked number four nationally, who is a legitimate threat to play deep into March (or April). The only weak part of their game is inconsistent three-point shooting but the commanding inside presence of Jared Sullinger has so far compensated. The Big Ten is arguably the toughest conference in the nation and even if the Bucks stumble once or twice down the stretch, they still have a terrific chance to win the Big Ten regular season title and tournament.
The Pride of Columbus will now stay at home and prepare for a visit from That School Up North this coming Sunday. The Wolverines are ranked 20th in the AP Poll and would love nothing more than to spring an upset in Columbus. This year however, The Nuthouse has been a fortress. “Little guys” beware.
Thoughts? Comments? Rebuttals? I can be reached on the Twitter @Corey_Barnes.