If there were moral victories in college basketball, Penn State's 69-66 loss to No. 2 and soon-to-be No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday evening in Columbus certainly would have constituted one.
Alas, there are not.
While the college basketball world might be falling in love with the underdog story of the Nittany Lions (10-7, 3-3) after beating two ranked teams and taking a third to the brink in the last eight days, you can bet the neither the players, nor the coaches are pleased with losing a close game as they so often did last season. They don't see themselves as a Cinderella. They see themselves as a legitimate threat in the Big Ten conference, and falling short in a game, even against a team as good as the undefeated Buckeyes (18-0, 5-0), will not leave them pleased.
Nevertheless, the players turned in a gutty performance. Four Lions hit double figures in scoring. David Jackson led the way with 19 points. Talor Battle, who suffered a tough shooting night, had 15 points. Jeff Brooks and the surprising Tim Frazier had 11 points each. Penn State shockingly out rebounded Ohio State 25-15, too.
It just wasn't enough.
As painful as the loss might feel in the moment, though, it only helped Penn State's NCAA Tournament resume. A win would have been great for the Lions, but if they were going to lose, as many expected, it was best that they did it in the fashion they did. They made a bang today, and whatever attention they weren't getting after the big wins, they're getting now after taking the best team of the country down to the very end.
The last in a string of five murderously tough games for Penn State awaits in West Lafayette against No. 8 Purdue on Wednesday night. If the Lions can escape that stretch 3-2 with a win, they might be well on their way to something special.
- It's nothing short of a miracle that Penn State has out rebounded Michigan State, Illinois and Ohio State by 20(!). The Lions are smaller than all three of those teams. It's amazing what good inside position can do. If Penn State can keep the momentum on the boards going against Purdue, a team that worked the Lions on the board by 15 at the Jordan Center, things might have a different ending this time around.
- Tim Frazier was very active, especially in the second half. He's not going to score a lot of points with a jumper that's still developing, but he got to the line a bunch Saturday and slipped behind the defense for some easy buckets. His 11 points were very big.
- Andrew Jones and Billy Oliver did a heck of a job on Ohio State's freshman phenomenon Jared Sullinger. Though he got loose for 19 points, including six very key buckets on the Buckeye's last two possessions, he had only six rebounds, well below his season average. Jones, Oliver as well as the other frontcourt players deserve a ton of credit for that.
- Penn State shot a 55% on the afternoon. If you do that most nights, you're going to win. Unfortunately...
- ...14 turnovers isn't terrible, but against a team as good as Ohio State, you're going to pay for them, and the Lions did. Not only did the Buckeyes get a bunch of second chance points, they thwarted potential Penn State scores by forcing the Lions to cough up the ball. That limited Penn State's chances to take advantage of its hot shooting.
- Penn State didn't shoot well from the perimeter again, falling short of 30% from deep for the second straight game at 23%. Talor Battle was 1-10 from the arc and when that happens, it's never good news for Penn State.
- On the flip side, Penn State was victimized by hot shooting from deep by Ohio State. Unlike many other games this season, it's not entirely Penn State's fault though, it's just the result of having a load like Sullinger to worry about down low. It really opened up the Buckeye shooters, and guys like Aaron Craft, who finished with 19 points and William Buford, who had 13 including nine from the arc, really took advantage on that. Ohio State was 10-20 for the game.
- I blame the coaches for a lot less than the average fan, but you can't leave Billy Oliver guarding perhaps the best big man in the country one-on-one with time winding down, or you're going to get the and-one play that Sullinger did sometimes, or at least the offensive player on the line more than half the time. Penn State would have been much better served doubling and forcing an Ohio State jump shooter to beat them, no matter how experienced the Buckeyes' perimeter players are.
- The refs got pretty whistle happy both ways in the second half. They were consistent, which you can never complain about, but for the game to end with three straight and-ones going back and forth is a little ridiculous and as many charges as were called is a little excessive. This is the Big Ten. Let 'em play.
- (ed. just remembered this) It was incredibly lame listening to the public address announcer in Columbus lead the "O-H-I-O" cheer. If that ever happens at Penn State with the "We Are..." cheer, God help us.
Stay tuned to BSD for more on Sunday.