Penn State survived a tough battle with Northwestern on Thursday night, winning 65-57 thanks to an epic three-point shooting performance by Tony Carr. Tonight, the quest for a first ever Big Ten Tournament championship continues when the Nittany Lions take on Ohio State in third-round action from Madison Square Garden.
All it takes is once glance at this season’s results to see why Penn State fans are so confident about the matchup. Pat Chambers’s team has already defeated the Buckeyes twice this season, including a 79-56 stomping two weeks ago in State College. If the Lions can beat second-seeded Ohio State for a third time, they’ll move on to play either Purdue or tournament darling Rutgers in the semifinals.
Has anything changed?
Penn State had Mike Watkins in the lineup during the first two games against Ohio State, but he’s out for the remainder of the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. In the most recent clash with the Buckeyes, the big man scored 11 points with 10 rebounds and two blocks. Backup center Julian Moore hasn’t give the Lions the same finishing ability as Watkins on offense, but he showed off his defensive prowess against Northwestern with three blocked shots. The last time he had that many was the last time Penn State played Ohio State.
The Buckeyes will have all their starters at their disposal tonight, and it’s important to remember that Kam Williams was coming off of a three-game suspension the last time he played against the Lions. The senior sharpshooter may have been a little rusty in that game, as he went 1-for-4 from the field on a night when Ohio State shot just 13 percent from three-point range. His team hasn’t played in a week, so Williams should be fresh tonight, as his minutes have gradually ramped up over the last three games.
How will Penn State win?
Help out Carr. Perhaps the biggest difference between this matchup with Ohio State and the other two is that the Lions just played last night, while the Buckeyes are fully rested. That makes it even more important than usual for Penn State to provide support for Carr, who might not have the stamina to bail out his team with six three-pointers again.
Against Northwestern, Carr attempted 20 field goals, a marker that has usually resulted in a Penn State loss this season. To knock out the Buckeyes once again, the Lions will need a solid effort from Lamar Stevens, who was just 2-for-12 with eight points in the Northwestern game.
Stay hot from downtown. It was just Carr who was lighting up Madison Square Garden last night. Shep Garner went 4-for-9 from beyond the arc, and Josh Reaves even pitched in with a trio of triples after failing to hit more than one three-pointer in his last 11 games. Those two will have to have their shooting hats one once again, since Carr in unlikely to achieve nuclear heat in isolation once again. Three-point shooting has been key against the Buckeyes this year, as the Lions were an insane 11-for-14 in the Columbus game before going “only” 9-for-20 in the rematch. In Big Ten play this year, Ohio State allows opponents to shoot 35 percent from three-point range.
Maintain defensive intensity. Watkins’s presence was missed on the offense against Northwestern, as Penn State shot a miserable 28 percent from inside the arc. However, on defense, the Lions didn’t miss a beat and held Northwestern to 40 percent shooting and fewer than 60 points. On the other hand, big men Dererk Pardon and Barret Benson combined to shoot 10-for-16 from the field. Moore did have three blocks in that game, but he’s going to have to do a better job defending Kaleb Wesson one-on-one against Ohio State while the rest of the team focuses on stopping Keita Bates-Diop again.
How will it go?
Ohio State hasn’t been the world-beater that its 15-3 Big Ten record presents, and Penn State sure made the Buckeyes look like pretenders in the last meeting. However, everything we’ve seen since then makes it seem like this will be a close game, so I’ll give Ohio State the edge given the absence of Watkins and the fatigue factor. Ohio State will win, 75-72.