Buckeyes Know They Face Tough Battle at Penn State
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — On paper, Tuesday night’s matchup between Ohio State and Penn State appears to be little more than a stepping stone in the Buckeyes’ quest for a second-straight Big Ten title.
The Buckeyes are ranked No. 1 in the country with just two games to go in the regular season. Along with being 19-0 at home, Thad Matta’s club is 8-2 on the road, with their only losses coming at No. 6 Purdue and No. 10 Wisconsin.
Penn State, on the other hand, is just 8-8 in conference play this season and 15-12 overall. They have lost four of their last seven games, but this Ohio State team knows better than to take them lightly, especially at their place.
“Every year since my freshman year that I've played there it's been a close game, within five points,” fifth-year senior David Lighty said of his trips to the Bryce Jordan Center.
“They're going to be looking to beat us, and we're going to be looking to beat them, so we've got to make plays when we need them and come out with the win.”
With a 3-15 conference record, the Nittany Lions finished dead last in the Big Ten last season, but they still managed to give the Buckeyes a battle in State College. They trailed No. 9 Ohio State just 30-26 at halftime, and then poured in 41 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a big night from Evan Turner.
The eventual National Player of the Year went just 1-for-7 from the floor in the first half, but was 7-for-10 in the second half to finish with 25 points. That included eight straight points after Penn State had cut the lead to just two with 5:15 left.
This year’s Penn State team is much improved over that one from a year, having already beaten Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota in that building.
“They've got a lot of guys out there that can really, really shoot the basketball and changing defenses. We'll see a couple of different defenses out of them,” Matta said.
“They've got four seniors and with Taylor Battle one or the best guards in the league. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us.”
Battle scored 22 points in that loss a year ago, but was only 7-of-19 from the floor and 2-of-8 from behind the arc. He is an improved scorer this year, averaging a conference-leading 20.5 points per game this season.
He had only 15 points in the first meeting between these two teams in Columbus back on Jan. 15, as Aaron Craft kept him in check for most of the game. Battle was just 5-of-17 from the floor and 1-of-10 from behind the arc in game that Penn State lost by only three (69-66) in Columbus.
Battle is coming off another rough shooting performance in a win over Northwestern last Thursday, but is capable of going off on almost anyone. He has scored 20 points or more 14 times this season, including three games of 30 or more. He dropped 26 in the win over Illinois, 22 in the win over Wisconsin and 28 in the most-recent win over Minnesota.
Craft will have to do another great job of staying in front of the shifty point guard, but it’s just as important for the Buckeyes not to allow themselves to be lulled to sleep by Penn State coach Ed DeChellis’ ball-control offense.
“It's maintaining the intensity if they're going to do that for the entire possession, because they did hit some on us late in the shot clock,” Matta said.
“We've got make sure that we keep that intensity, the every possession has to be there.”
If they don’t, the Buckeyes know they will have a difficult time holding on to their one-game lead over Purdue between now and the season-finale against Wisconsin this Sunday.
“It's tough to play everywhere in the Big Ten,” Lighty said.
“Everyone brings their A-game, especially us being at the top of the Big Ten, everyone wants to knock us off, so we've got to be ready.”
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