No. 4 Ohio State seeks its seventh straight victory when it plays at struggling Penn State on Thursday.
The Buckeyes (17-4, 11-4 Big Ten) meet a Nittany Lions team (7-10, 4-9) looking for redemption after a disappointing 62-61 loss to Nebraska for the Cornhuskers’ first conference win in 26 games.
Penn State hoped an expected win against Nebraska would have propelled it to a run for a possible NCAA Tournament berth from the competitive Big Ten.
Now, it’s become a long shot, although interim coach Jim Ferry still believes in his players.
“With this league there’s a ton of opportunities left,” he said. “We play the No. 4 team in the country next. If you win that game everything flips and it’s back on.
“We’ve got to stay positive with these guys. That’s it. Give them positive reinforcement, get them back in the gym, keep shooting. They’re good basketball players. Just stay positive.”
The Buckeyes must avoid looking past the Nittany Lions to the showdown vs. No. 3 Michigan at home on Sunday.
“They are certainly a team that can win the whole thing,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said of the Wolverines. “Before then, we’ve got a big-time challenge on Thursday.”
Ohio State has reasons to be wary. Despite the disparity in records, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions battled to the end in Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 27.
E.J. Liddell made four free throws for Ohio State in the final 59 seconds to break a 79-79 tie for the 83-79 victory. After Liddell’s first two and before his second pair, Penn State twice missed shots.
It was similar to its ending vs. Nebraska when the Nittany Lions missed two late shots that could have put them ahead, then turned the ball over for the winning bucket by the Cornhuskers.
“The guys have really executed very well,” Ferry said. “We’ve gotten really good shots. We just have to make a shot. We do those situations all the time in practice and we do execute.”
Penn State will need to be at its best against the Buckeyes and their ability to get contributions up and down the lineup.
In Ohio State’s 78-59 win over Indiana on Saturday, freshman Zed Key came off the bench to score six points and grab eight rebounds, including a career-high five offensive boards.
Holtmann said Key has helped take the pressure of forward Kyle Young.
“In this league when there are so many big guys, he’s so valuable for our team because it allows you to pull Kyle off some of the banging that goes on,” Holtmann said of Key. “A challenge for a big guy is figuring out angles defensively and offensively but doing your work early. I think he’s gotten better at that. His length helps him. He’s only 6-8 but his frame and length allow him to play much bigger than that.”
The Buckeyes also got a bounce-back game from Justice Sueing, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds vs. the Hoosiers after going scoreless in 17 minutes the previous game at Maryland.
“You knew he’d come back and respond,” Holtmann said.
–Field Level Media