Penn St.-Ohio St. Preview

Penn State has beaten consecutive ranked opponents for the first
time in more than half a century. Ohio State is a win away from its
best start in nearly 50 years.

The second-ranked Buckeyes also know they’re likely on their way
to No. 1 if they can extend their winning streak against the
suddenly feisty Nittany Lions to 14 on Saturday in Columbus.

Penn State has knocked off two of the Big Ten’s premier programs
in the past week, and Ohio State (17-0, 4-0) hasn’t quite looked
like a juggernaut during its three January wins.

The Buckeyes have been tested, but rallied to win 73-68 at Iowa
on Jan. 4, defeated Minnesota 67-64 on Sunday and knocked off
Michigan 68-64 on Wednesday to match the 1990-91 team for the
third-best start in school history.

Later that night, top-ranked Duke lost at Florida State, opening
the door for Ohio State to ascend to No. 1 on Monday.

“There wasn’t one word said,” coach Thad Matta said Friday.
“Maybe it was 11:30 at night, but these guys were kind of like,
‘Hey, what are we going to do to beat Penn State?’ as they got off
the bus. That’s what I love about this team.”

The only Ohio State teams to begin with better records were the
1960-61 squad that started 27-0, and the ’61-’62 team that won its
first 22 contests. Led both seasons by Jerry Lucas, those Buckeyes
lost in the NCAA tournament title game each time.

“It’s early in the season,” forward David Lighty said. “We’re
17-0 but there’s still a long way to go. We’re kind of looking at
the bigger picture.”

A home game against the Nittany Lions (10-6, 3-2) no longer
appears to be an easy matchup.

Penn State had lost four of five heading into a visit from
then-No. 18 Michigan State last Saturday, but beat the Spartans
66-62 despite conference scoring leader Talor Battle finishing with
13 points on 3-of-14 shooting.

Battle didn’t struggle again Tuesday. The senior guard had 26
points in engineering a 57-55 upset of No. 16 Illinois, the first
time the Nittany Lions have beaten back-to-back ranked teams since
the 1954 NCAA tournament.

“We can’t be satisfied with what we’ve done so far,” Battle
said Thursday, “so it’s not just upsets anymore. We’re expected to
win.”

They won’t be expected to win in Columbus, considering Penn
State has dropped 13 straight in the series. Battle averaged 23.0
points in two losses to the Evan Turner-led Buckeyes last
season.

As good as Battle has been this season, the Nittany Lions have
fared better when he’s done less. They’re 2-4 when he scores 26
points or more and 8-2 when he has 21 or fewer.

When senior forward Jeff Brooks has at least 17 points, Penn
State is 6-0.

Brooks may be hard-pressed to reach that total against the
stingy Buckeyes. Ohio State is giving up 56.6 points per game,
eighth in the nation, and the Nittany Lions – who get 52 percent of
their points from Brooks and Battle – average a Big Ten-low 65.8
points.

Penn State is also allowing opponents to shoot 39.5 percent from
3-point range, which doesn’t bode well against a Buckeyes team that
shoots 40.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Even if Lighty, Jon Diebler and William Buford aren’t hitting,
Ohio State has one of the nation’s top interior players. Freshman
Jared Sullinger is averaging 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds, making
him the first Big Ten player to average that high in both
categories since Minnesota’s Kris Humphries finished at 21.7 and
10.1 in 2003-04.