Down two with 28 seconds to go, Penn State needed points on the possession to tie or take the lead to knock off Ohio State for the fourth time in as many games. Rasir Bolton, who was excellent with 15 points on the night, blew past OSU's C.J. Jackson and drove the baseline for a wide open, uncontested layup. However, this is Penn State basketball, and nothing is ever this simple. The ball rolled all the way around the rim, so close to going in, but lipped out in what was seemingly a metaphor for the Nittany Lions' whole season. The Buckeyes rebounded and made their free throws. As Josh Reaves' meaningless three-pointer fell short at the buzzer, Ohio State secured a much-needed 74-70 home victory as the Nittany Lions (8-15, 1-11) suffered yet another heartbreaking loss.
Reaves got things going for Penn State early. In the first three minutes, he registered a three pointer, a fast break dunk off a steal, and an and-one off another steal as the Nittany Lions jumped to an 8-2 lead. Ohio State had a big answer, however. A 20-1 run for the Buckeyes shifted a six-point deficit to a 14-point lead. In this stretch, Penn State went almost eight minutes without a field goal, a far-too-familiar run for Nittany Lion fans.
During this stretch, Penn State was consistently getting beat off the dribble, leading to either an open layup or a kick-out three. The Buckeyes shot 50% on the night from the three-point line. Despite the massive Ohio State run, the resilient Nittany Lions carried an 11-1 run of their own into halftime behind a 1-2-2 press that stumped the hosts. PSU trailed by just three at the half 34-31.
Chris Holtmann and the Buckeyes pieced together several good offensive possessions out of the intermission, and worked their lead back up to nine, but another great run (11-0) gave the Nittany Lions a 49-46 lead, their first lead since early in the first half. Bolton got on a roll and scored eight in a row for Penn State before he handed the torch off to Lamar Stevens, who had been fairly quiet up until Pat Chambers force fed him with star Buckeye big man Kaleb Wesson in foul trouble. Stevens finished the night with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
The pace of the game in the middle of the second half was incredibly entertaining, as the teams see-sawed back and forth for the lead. Chambers' team plays tough every game, but they seem to have a little more in their tank when they are playing against Ohio State.
Reaves was fantastic all night long. The senior shot 9-15 from the field with 20 points, four rebounds, and five steals. He and Jamari Wheeler were a nightmare for the Buckeyes, who turned the ball over 18 times on the night. Wheeler finished with five steals, and was everywhere on the court, leading all Nittany Lions with a plus/minus of +7.
The craziest play of a crazy night occurred with the Buckeyes leading 64-61 with 3:49 left - C.J. Jackson hit a circus shot in what was essentially a 20-foot finger roll around a closed-out Stevens that Steph Curry himself would admire. On the same play John Harrar got called for a controversial flagrant foul for landing on Kaleb Wesson, resulting in two free throws and a four-point possession for Ohio State to go up 68-61.
But Penn State battled back. Bolton hit Myles Dread with a fantastic find along the baseline for an open three, which Dread happily rewarded with his only bucket of the game. Down 68-67 with 1:34 to go, Josh Reaves stole Andre Wesson’s pass in the backcourt leading to another breakaway dunk, giving the Nittany Lions a 70-69 lead and sending their bench into a frenzy. A layup by Kyle Young followed by a free throw by Andre Wesson put Ohio State up 72-70, setting the stage for the Nittany Lions to tie or win. Despite a perfect look, Bolton’s point-blank layup rimmed out, and Penn State dropped yet another single-digit loss, 74-70.
Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State’s best player, was a non-factor in the game tonight, scoring only six points on two shots in just 19 minutes of play as he was in foul trouble from the get-go. Andre Wesson, his older brother, had an efficient night with 15 points on 4-7 shooting. The Buckeyes shot 50% from the field, but their 18 turnovers kept the Nittany Lions right in the ballgame.
This one stings for Penn State, as they overcame several Ohio State runs throughout the night and played with great effort and emotion. They got everything they wanted on the game-tying possession, but unfortunately, a shot that Bolton makes 49 times out of 50 was a touch too strong.
Penn State returns to action Tuesday night when they host the 7th ranked Michigan Wolverines. In 2013, a struggling Pat Chambers' team defeated No. 4 Michigan in the BJC, and a similar result would be the pinnacle of a less than stellar season.