Ohio St.-Penn St. Preview
Although Ohio State believes it's ready for all the excitement that comes with March basketball, the team still has a lot of work to do to secure one of the top seeds in the Big Ten tournament.
Following a dramatic comeback win, the 23rd-ranked Buckeyes return to the road, which has been an ongoing obstacle for Thad Matta's squad, Wednesday night looking to avoid another loss to Penn State on its senior night.
Facing a 12-point halftime deficit to Purdue on Sunday, it appeared Ohio State (21-8, 10-6) was going to lose ground in the standings, but the Buckeyes rallied for a 65-61 victory. Freshman star D'Angelo Russell scored 17 of his 28 points after halftime and Ohio State closed the game on a 7-2 run to improve to 13-0 in March at home under Matta.
"We talked about it at shoot-around, you know, it's March," Matta said. "You've got to find ways to win basketball games, you have to make plays."
Ohio State is one of a handful of teams in the mix for the final two double-byes in the conference tournament, but locking one down won't be easy. After this game, the Buckeyes conclude the regular season Sunday at home against No. 6 Wisconsin, which is trying to build a case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
''It's too late for us to be taking steps backward now," senior Sam Thompson said. "It's our time to really hit our stride and really get going and put together a run.''
The Buckeyes have strung together back-to-back wins, but they've both come in Columbus, where they're 18-1. They've dropped five of their last seven on the road with those victories coming over Northwestern and Rutgers.
Ohio State was ranked 22nd when it lost 65-63 at a sub-.500 Nittany Lions team last Feb. 27 on its senior night, snapping a seven-game winning streak at Penn State.
The Buckeyes cruised to a 75-55 home win over Penn State on Feb. 11 behind a career-high 22 points from Thompson. Ohio State scored 21 points off 15 turnovers and held the Nittany Lions to 32.2 percent shooting. Russell scored 17 to finish with one more than D.J. Newbill in a matchup of the league's top two scorers.
Penn State (15-14, 3-13) is guaranteed to play in the conference tournament's opening round, but it has been a tough opponent. The Nittany Lions' 81-77 overtime loss to Iowa on Saturday - their fifth in a row overall - marked their seventh defeat by six points or less.
''Some of the stuff that happens to us is amazing," coach Patrick Chambers said. "I've never seen anything like it.''
Newbill, who averages a Big Ten-best 20.4 points, will be playing his final home game. He ranks fourth on the school's all-time scoring list and is six points away from 2,000.
"His work ethic in the gym, earning the right to make shots, how efficient he's been and consistent he's been throughout the year, and how much we count on him and how he knows every defense is geared to him. For him to pass 2,000, I just think is amazing," Chambers said.
Penn State, which also defeated then-No. 4 Michigan on its 2013 senior night, has lost six straight against ranked teams since last season's win over Ohio State.