NEW YORK — After beating Northwestern on Thursday, Penn State’s players insisted that their pending game against Ohio State was a completely different situation. After sweeping the regular-season series, the Nittany Lions said, the chance to play a knockout game in the Big Ten tournament rendered the first two meetings irrelevant.
They were right. It was a different challenge, but Penn State still handled it. After holding a four-point lead with 1:49 to play at Madison Square Garden, the Buckeyes gave up five unanswered points and lost 69-68 in a quarterfinal on a dunk from Josh Reaves with 3.1 seconds to play.
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The win not only sent Penn State (21-12) to a semifinal for the first time in seven years, it makes the Nittany Lions the fourth team to hand Ohio State (24-8) three losses in one season — but the first to do so as an unranked team against ranked Ohio State teams.
“It stings a lot,” Ohio State junior Keita Bates-Diop said from inside the New York Knicks locker room. “We don’t get a chance at them again. We had three chances at them and were pretty close in two of them, so that’s going to stick with me for a while.”
Despite trailing by one point at halftime and by as many as eight during the second half, the Buckeyes looked set to advance as Bates-Diop regained the form that made him Big Ten player of the year.
After being challenged by senior Andrew Dakich at halftime, Bates-Diop scored 17 of his 25 points during the second half to keep the Buckeyes going. His jumper with 2:37 left gave Ohio State a 66-62 lead, and his layup 48 seconds later answered a Julian Moore dunk to push the lead back to four points.
Then disaster struck. After Bates-Diop was called for a touch foul on a driving Carr, who made one of two free throws with 1:33 to play, Penn State’s defense stiffened and forced Bates-Diop into a deep, contested three-pointer from straight-on that didn’t fall. Reaves then rebounded his own miss twice on the same possession before being fouled by Dakich with 47.4 seconds left.
He hit both free throws to make it a one-point game, and Ohio State called timeout with 41.5 to play and a 16.5 second shot-clock differential.
“We were just trying to get Keita the ball at the elbow and isolate him, and we just couldn’t get him the ball,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “At that point you’ve got to make a play and we just couldn’t make a play.”
Shep Garner poked the ball away from Bates-Diop with about 17 seconds left, and Penn State pushed it upcourt without calling timeout. Carr, who had 25 points already, sized up Dakich for the winning shot before feeding Reaves as he blew past Ohio State’s C.J. Jackson for the uncontested dunk.
“If Reaves was not that wide open, he’s going to take that shot,” Dakich said. “I just tried to contest it as best I can.”
Penn State built its lead early on the offensive glass. At the break, the Nittany Lions had nine offensive rebounds they had turned into 14 second-chance points despite playing without leading rebounder Mike Watkins, who will miss the entire tournament with a knee injury.
“We showed fight in the second half, but we lost that game early in the first half with the offensive rebounds we gave up,” said senior Jae’Sean Tate, who battled foul trouble all game. “I think we played good team ball and good defense, but we just gave them too many second-chance points and in the end, that’s why what happened, happened.”