The first half was almost unwatchable at times, and the second half was as entertaining as they come. Josh Reaves established his presence early, and was key throughout the game tallying 20 points and 5 steals. An offensive drought in the first half seemingly put the game out of reach, yet Penn State kept playing and gave Ohio State everything they could handle. In the second half, the Nittany Lions led, but couldn’t pull away. The Buckeyes hit a flukey shot at the end of the shot-clock, and while Rasir Bolton had a clear layup to tie the game with 12 seconds left - he missed, and Penn State when home with a loss. It’s a game script we’re all too familiar with at this point.
Josh Reaves harnessed some of the energy from his last trip to Columbus, where his return to the lineup sparked an upset win for Penn State. While he hasn’t been suspended, his offense has been lacking lately, and it was nice to see him get back on track. In one of the more puzzling moves by Chambers tonight, Reaves went to the bench after single-handedly giving his team an 8-2 lead. Ohio State stormed back when Reaves left the court, and kept going once he returned. A 21-1 run for the Buckeyes game them a 23-9 lead, and it felt like the road team would get run out of the gym.
Reaves and Mike Watkins were really all Penn State had going for them on offense in the majority of the first half, as Andre Wesson did an excellent job defending Lamar Stevens. Jamari Wheeler was exceptional on defense (he also had 5 steals), but outside of that Penn State couldn’t get much going. They trailed by fifteen late in the first half. Suddenly the defense woke up, forcing turnovers by pressing Ohio State. Lamar Stevens was able to get to the line to open his scoring for the night, and somehow Penn State only trailed by 3 heading into halftime. As awful as they looked at times, it’s remarkable that they drew within a possession by halftime.
The Nittany Lions opened the second half scoring, completely an 11-0 run to pull within 1 point. Their aggressive play on defense cost them at times, but paid off in terms of steals leading to easy transition points. It was Andre, not Kaleb Wesson who was key for much of the game. He had 15 points and frustrated Stevens on the other end. Freshman guard Luther Muhammad carried the Buckeyes in the second half, and his 8-8 mark at the free throw line was crucial down the stretch.
The second half was highly contested. It was like watching a different game in terms of the energy that Penn State brought compared to the first half. Rasir Bolton got going on offense despite being very erratic in his play early on. His turnovers are an issue, but on a scoring-starved team, he needs to be on the floor. If only we could merge him with Jamari Wheeler.
Speaking of which:
Both teams flirted with taking command of the game late in the second half, but it came down to the final minutes. In a wild sequence the Buckeyes’ C.J. Jackson hit a circus shot as the shot clock expired, and adding insult to injury John Harrar got called for a flagrant hook-and-hold foul giving Ohio State two free throws and possession. Reaves mitigated the damage with a steal-and-slam, bringing Penn State within 5. They drew closer, and again Reaves got a steal leading to a slam dunk to give Penn State a 70-69 lead with 1:19 remaining.
Ohio State scored on the ensuing possession, but gave Penn State a few chances to retake the lead. Missed shots at the rim by Lamar Stevens and Rasir Bolton let the game slip away giving the team yet another close loss. Pat Chambers drew up two plays in the final minute that gave his team clear shots at the rim. One didn’t beat the shot clock, and the other bounced out. It’s another tough one to swallow, but yet again the effort and determination are admirable.
Four Factors Analysis
Penn State did pretty well on offense if you excuse the 8 minute FG drought in the first half. They didn’t play their best defensive game, but made up for lapses in the half-court defense with 12 steals. The Nittany Lions rebounded well, literally and figuratively, after an awful start to the game. Part of that likely due to Kaleb Wesson being in foul trouble for much of the game.
Player(s) of the Game
Lamar Stevens did his thing again. Despite a slow start he had 20 points and 12 rebounds. But it was Josh Reaves who kept the team afloat when it seemed like no one else on the team had the legs to compete. Reaves’ night will make fans question where he’s been recently. He was everywhere.
Slip-and-slide - If you weren’t able to watch, the court was in awful shape tonight do to the humidity. I’m not sure what could’ve been done with the unseasonable weather and all, but it was concerning watching players slipping on each possession. Fortunately both teams escaped without any serious injuries.
Small Ball - Mike Watkins and John Harrar disappeared down the stretch with Pat Chambers opting to go with a smaller lineup with Kaleb Wesson on the bench. It paid off in some regards, but it also took away Penn State’s advantage at the FT line and their best rim defender. To Pat’s credit, Watkins looked exhausted even though he was effective.
Rasir Bolton - Yes he had 5 turnovers and a missed layup in the closing minute, but Bolton’s 15 points were key to keeping the team in the game. He continues to excel at the FT line, going 5-5, and is one of the few players willing to force the issue on offense when no one is moving.
Penn State returns to the Bryce Jordan Center on Tuesday, February 12th where they’ll take on #7 Michigan. The game will tip-off at 8:30pm and air on BTN.