Hoops Preview: Penn State vs. No. 20 Ohio State

Penn State has picked itself up recently, winning three of its last five after a slow start in conference play. The two losses during that stretch were close road games decided in the closing minutes. As the team travels to Columbus, Ohio for tonight’s game against the No. 20 Buckeyes, it will be searching for that elusive first road win in conference play.

The Lions defeated Nebraska in their last time out, a sloppy 56-43 victory in the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State led by as many as 17 in the low-scoring affair before the Cornhuskers mounted a late 10-2 run to get it within three points. However, some clutch shooting from freshman Shep Garner made the difference and helped the Lions close out.

“We can play the best teams in this league,” coach Pat Chambers said. “Nebraska had five wins and it just shows you we definitely have good enough talent and we can compete.”

After a tightly-contested loss to No. 16 Maryland last week and the win on Saturday, the Lions will try to complete an upset against Ohio State. The Buckeyes have been a powerhouse in the conference all year long and are coming off of a 79-60 rout of Rutgers on the road.

The Enemy (Is Everywhere)

Ohio State boasts arguably the best offense in the entire Big Ten. The Buckeyes lead the league in field goal percentage (50.3 percent), scoring margin (+17.6), and are second in points per game (79.0 ppg).

They are led by freshman phenom D’Angelo Russell who is averaging 19.5 points per game and posted his first triple-double against Rutgers. The Buckeyes are expected to be without sophomore forward Marc Loving who has been serving a suspension handed down by coach Thad Matta. In Loving’s absence, Jae’Sean Tate has stepped up. Tate dropped 20 points in the Buckeye’s last outing.

Keeping Russell in check will be key. His scoring average is second only to D.J. Newbill in the Big Ten.

How to Make Them Disappear Completely

Ohio State has had a successful season behind its strong guard play and rangy athletic forwards, but has struggled inside. In the four games that the Buckeyes have lost in conference play, they have lost the battle on the boards.

The Lions will likely need an uncharacteristically good shooting night to stay in the mix against such a potent offense, but if they can defend and crash the boards, they’ll give themselves a chance. Newbill struggled to get it going against Nebraska with just 11 points. He’ll need to return to his typical form. Look for Ross Travis (6.2 rebounds per game) and one of Penn State’s shuffling big men — Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack, or Julian Moore — to step up on the boards and keep it competitive.

KenPom Game Prep

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In the end, I think Ohio State’s scoring will prove too much for Penn State. The Nittany Lions defeated the Buckeyes in both of their matchups last season and it isn’t out of the question, but Penn State still struggles to close out games against tougher opponents. I can see the Buckeyes holding on in a two-to-three possession game. (Surprise!)

Photo: Bobby Chen/Onward State

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