STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Eager to get to the court at the Bryce Jordan Center, Keita Bates-Diop led a small crew of Buckeyes to the closest entrance from the Ohio State locker room.
There, in his path, was an elderly female usher, who informed him that he would have to take the longer route through the concourse to the adjacent corner of the court.
Nothing came easy Thursday night for the No. 8 Buckeyes. With a chance to avenge its lone Big Ten loss and strengthen its lead atop the conference standings, Ohio State instead came out flat, trailed by 24 points at halftime and lost 79-56 in front of a white-clad Penn State crowd of 10,981 that continued to roar as the lead continued to climb.
The loss drops Ohio State (22-6, 13-2) into a tie with Michigan State atop the conference standings with three games to play. Purdue, which like the Spartans entered the night one game behind the Buckeyes, also took a stunning road loss, at Wisconsin earlier in the night.
After falling behind by a season-high 30 points not even three minutes into the second half, Ohio State put some worry into the home fans when an 18-4 run capped by a Bates-Diop three-pointer with 10:37 to play pulled the Buckeyes within 58-42.
It was a spot similar to where Ohio State had been eight days ago at Purdue, where it trailed by 14 with 10:17 to play. This time, there was no magic comeback.
Kaleb Wesson scored on Ohio State’s first two possessions of the game, but he had to leave the game one possession later after landing awkwardly going for a Penn State miss. He limped the locker room under his own power and returned moments later after a team spokesman said he had his ankles retaped.
While he was out, the Nittany Lions (19-9, 9-6) took off, putting together a 12-0 run that made it a 14-4 lead barely six minutes into the game.
A brief defensive spurt where the Buckeyes forced three turnovers on five Penn State possessions helped them stem the tide, but they could muster only five points during the run to pull within nine points at 25-16 with 6:18 left in the half.
After Micah Potter made two free throws with 2.9 seconds left, he sprinted down the court to defend near the basket against the full-court pass incoming from Penn State.
He tripped over Musa Jallow in the process, and as he fell Jallow was whistled for a foul on Tony Carr, who had caught the pass and scored with 1.6 seconds left. He hit the free throw, making it a 45-21 halftime lead and the lowest-scoring half of the year for the Buckeyes.
Fifth-year senior Kam Williams returned to active duty but was not in the starting lineup after missing the last three games because of a suspension for a violation of team rules.
After scoring 28 points at Value City Arena, Carr had 30. Bates-Diop, who looked to be favoring his left wrist, had only 10 points.