GAME NOTES: The Ohio State Buckeyes are certainly not where they had hoped they would be after the first few weeks of Big Ten Conference play, and they will try to build up a head of steam moving forward as they entertain the last-place Penn State Nittany Lions at Value City Arena on Wednesday evening.
Penn State comes into the fray sporting an even 10-10 record, but the team has won only one of its first seven Big Ten bouts. The lone triumph came in the team's last outing, as it has been idle since taking down visiting Nebraska on Jan. 23, 58-54. The Lions are just 2-4 in true road games this season, with three of the those setbacks coming against conference foes.
Ironically, one of Ohio State's four league losses came against the same Nebraska squad that Penn State just beat. Despite their recent struggles in which they lost four straight from Jan. 7-20, the Buckeyes are still in the hunt for the Big Ten title as they are currently four games off the pace set by first-place Michigan State. Clearly, much work has to be done for OSU to get back into it, but coach Thad Matta has an abundance of talent with which to work, and the team will try to improve upon its 13-1 home record with a win tonight.
Ohio State has won each of the last 18 meetings in the series with Penn State, and leads all-time, 29-12. PSU has never won at Value City Arena, and the teams will conclude the regular-season series with a bout at the Bryce Jordan Center on Feb. 27.
It was hardly the most efficient effort, but the Nittany Lions found a way to claim their first Big Ten win of the season the last time out, as they slipped past Nebraska at home. D.J. Newbill paced PSU with 16 points, John Johnson came off the bench to drain three treys on his way to 13 points, and both Tim Frazier and Brandon Taylor chipped in with 11 apiece. Frazier also dished out six assists, but the team had only nine helpers on 20 field goals. The Lions shot just 35.1 percent from the floor, going a mere 5-of-21 from beyond the arc, while holding the Cornhuskers to 35.8 percent field goal efficiency, although 10 of their 23 3-point tries found the bottom of the net (.435).
The backcourt tandem of Newbill and Frazier continue to highlight Penn State's efforts, as they average 17.2 and 16.5 ppg, respectively. Newbill has more 3- point baskets (28) than anyone on the roster, while also grabbing 5.3 rpg, and Frazier is one of the top playmakers in the country, as he hands out 6.4 apg, in addition to coming up with 4.6 rpg and a team-high 35 steals. Collectively, the Nittany Lions are scoring a solid 75.2 ppg, but they allow 72.6 ppg, despite the opposition shooting just 40.9 percent from the floor.
Ohio State put the brakes on its four-game slide by downing visiting Illinois last week, 62-55. LaQuinton Ross paced the Buckeyes with 18 points, while Lenzelle Smith, Jr. had 16 and Aaron Craft finished with a line of 11 points, six rebounds and five assists. Amir Williams pulled down nine boards, and OSU used an 8-of-19 effort from 3-point range to help lead the way to victory. Aiding in that effort was the fact that the Illini made good on only 5-of-18 long-range launches, while turning the ball over 15 times.
While certainly no slouch from an offensive standpoint (72.7 ppg), Ohio State's strength lies in its ability to play shutdown defense. The Buckeyes currently rank third in the country in 3-point FG percentage defense (.262), eighth in scoring defense (58.3 ppg.), 13th in fewest fouls per game (16.2) and 15th in scoring margin (14.4 ppg.). Individually, Craft is 10th in steals (47), while Shannon Scott ranks 20th (43). Ross (14.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Smith, Jr. (12.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg) are the only double-digit scorers on the roster, but five others net between 6.4 and 9.3 ppg.
Despite some recent bumps in the road, the Buckeyes should have little trouble neutralizing the Lions' talented guards, and claiming a relatively easy home win as a result.
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