STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Left open in the corner, Sam Thompson found an uncontested path to the basket along the baseline and contorted his body around 6-foot-9 center Sasa Borovnjak for a layup and three-point play.
With Big Ten-leading scorer Deshaun Thomas having an off day, the lithe 6–7 Thompson stepped up Saturday for No. 14 Ohio State.
He scored 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field, and the Buckeyes took advantage of cold-shooting Penn State for a 65-51 victory.
“I really did the easy part,” the sophomore said. “Guys found me, I was wide open, and I just knocked down some shots.”
Jermaine Marshall had 16 points for the Nittany Lions, who have lost 18 straight to the Buckeyes. Thomas finished with 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting, well below his league-leading average of 20.5.
Thompson picked up the slack from the field for Ohio State (15-4, 5-2 Big Ten), while Lenzelle Smith Jr. helped put away pesky Penn State by hitting 5 of 6 from the foul line over the final 4:13.
An 11-minute stretch without a field goal in the first half hurt the Nittany Lions (8-12, 0-8).
“If you told me that we’d hold Deshaun Thomas to 11 points, I’d tell you we’re in the game with a chance to win,” coach Patrick Chambers said.
D.J. Newbill had 15 points and six assists, while Borovnjak added nine points. The Nittany Lions did draw within 59-49 with 2:41 left off two foul shots from Marshall.
But Smith (11 points, eight rebounds) was clutch at the foul line down the stretch, and Thompson hurt the Nittany Lions all day.
He answered one Penn State run with a 3 from the wing to keep the lead at double digits. His acrobatic drive around Borovnjak for the three-point play put Ohio State up 43-27 with about 13:30 left.
“Sam was tremendous today. I really challenged Sam to play his best basketball,” coach Thad Matta said. “From the standpoint of what he brought to the table today, I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Ohio State gradually asserted control in the second half, though scrappy Penn State tried to hang around with defense — Thompson’s good day notwithstanding.
The Buckeyes held a 39-25 advantage on the boards, and limited the Nittany Lions to just two offensive rebounds. Penn State did commit a season-low four turnovers and got to the line 17 times in the second half.
They converted just 11 into free throws, though Matta wasn’t happy with the way that his team committed 13 second-half fouls to give the Nittany Lions life. The free throw line has been a strength for Penn State in conference play at 71 percent, second-best in the Big Ten behind Illinois’ 73 percent.
“Our biggest problem today was our fouling in the second half,” Matta said. “Some of the fouls we were committing were not the smartest fouls in the world.”
But poor shooting early had spoiled thoughts of a Penn State upset.
Ohio State pulled away midway through the first half after Penn State went cold from the field after an impressive drive by Newbill. The Nittany Lions guard stopped suddenly in the lane, causing Buckeyes standout defender Aaron Craft to trip backward to leave an obstacle-free path to the basket for Newbill for an 11-all tie with 13:34 left.
And then the Nittany Lions went more than 11 minutes until their next field goal. By that time, Marshall’s 3 with 1:27 in the half cut Ohio State’s lead to 27-16.
In between, they had bad misses from their big men; a drive from Marshall that bounced tantalizingly on the rim before skipping off; and five missed 3s in the half by Brandon Taylor, several wide open from the wing.
The Nittany Lions tried to keep up throughout the afternoon defense, mixing up looks against Ohio State. Though they often lack in talent, Chambers’ team has been well-schooled in hustling and scrambling for loose balls for 40 minutes.
“I feel like we’re close, if we can just get a third scorer,” Chambers said. “Our defense is really at a good place.”
The Buckeyes weren’t playing particularly well, either, but good ball movement gave them sound chances from the corners. Thompson’s behind-the-back pass to an open Shannon Scott in the right corner gave the Buckeyes a 17-11 lead with 12 minutes left.
In this game, against cold-shooting Penn State, it seemed like a double-digit deficit to the delight of the healthy sprinkling of fans wearing Ohio state red.