NEW YORK — To a man, Penn State insisted that its two regular-season games against Ohio State will have no bearing on Friday’s Big Ten tournament quarterfinal.
That would be music to the ears of the Buckeyes. After sweeping the regular-season series, the seventh-seeded Nittany Lions secured a third shot against an Ohio State team that went 15-3 in conference play with a 65-57 second-round win over No. 10 seed Northwestern on Thursday.
Afterward, they tried to downplay the notion of being overly confident.
“Stage is different,” senior guard Shep Garner said. “It’s win or go home, so everybody plays their best basketball this time of year. Whatever was done in the past, that’s in the past. It means nothing. It’s a brand-new season for everyone. We’re not going to look at the past. So we beat them twice. So what? That’s a great group of guys. We’ve got to come to play.”
At Ohio State on Jan. 25, Penn State got a pregame boost when junior guard Josh Reaves was returned to the team after missing four games due to an academic situation. The Nittany Lions celebrated his arrival when he rushed onto the court for warm-ups and opened the game by hitting their first five three-pointers to set a tone.
The events were related.
“We were jacked up to have Josh back,” Garner said. “He just brings that element to this team that it isn’t matched anywhere. You can’t match his intensity, the intangibles that he has in his game. He’s a big part of this team. If any of our brothers go down of course it’s going to be different, but he’s the heart and soul of this team and we would miss him.”
Garner was also named to the Big Ten’s all-defensive team. In the rematch Feb. 15 at Penn State, each member of the roster could lay claim to similar honors after handing the Buckeyes a 23-point loss.
“Just seeing the love and support the school has gained for basketball, it was an amazing feeling to be there and have the students rush out onto the court,” Reaves said of the win. “It was just a great feeling.”
Sophomore guard Tony Carr led the Big Ten in scoring at 19.9 points per game, but he scored 28 and 30, respectively, in the two games against the Buckeyes.
“We had the same confidence against everybody,” he said. “Shots just fall against them. We play great defense on their guys and hopefully we can do the same thing (Friday). We just want to defend and rebound like we did those two games.”
Coach Patrick Chambers said he would enjoy the win against the Wildcats for roughly half an hour before turning his focus on the Buckeyes. On Friday morning, he said he would show his players clips of positive plans to help build their confidence.
Ohio State followed the second Penn State game with a loss at Michigan before ending the season with a pair of wins. Penn State lost its final three regular-season games entering Thursday’s second round of the Big Ten tournament.
“Ohio State finished the season really strong, so they’re a very confident bunch as well,” he said. “I think about the game at Indiana with the big three from C.J. (Jackson). This is a new slate, new game. We’ve got to prepare for everything. We’re going to throw the records out and be ready to compete against a very well-coached team.”