Ohio State’s season of frustration at the hands of Penn State has largely been because of an inability to guard the Nittany Lions.
But when Penn State completed the season sweep with a 69-68 win Friday in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden, it was what happened at the opposite end of the court that most concerned coach Chris Holtmann.
Video: Ohio State Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann on losing to Penn State
As he looked back at the loss and why he went away from heavily featuring lineup mainstays Jae’Sean Tate and Kaleb Wesson, Holtmann pointed to a lack of space on offense when they were on the court with Keita Bates-Diop.
“The overall issue was we couldn’t score,” he said. “Our lineup efficiency with those guys in there was not very good. Teams have played us like that in the past, but those guys have been able to finish even if they’re playing us like that.
“As physical as the game was being played, they weren’t finishing. We had no space for Keita to operate or other guys to operate and we weren’t finishing, and that made a combination of tough offense.”
It’s partly why Penn State shot a season-low 37.9 percent against the Buckeyes and scored a season-low 69 points but still advanced.
Six of the eight Buckeyes who played had one first-half field goal; Bates-Diop and Tate both had three. It added up to 32 points, and when the Buckeyes scored 36 in the second half, they got 17 from Bates-Diop, who essentially took over the offense.
Meanwhile, Wesson played 10 minutes in each half and Tate played only seven second-half minutes as he encountered foul trouble.
Neither was particularly effective, adding to the offensive problems. Tate was 3 of 8 on field goals inside the three-point arc, and Wesson, after scoring on the opening possession and forcing a tough shot that he missed on the second, had five points on 2-of-6 shooting.
“It was a combination of (Penn State) knowing us and knowing us well, but their size and their length around the rim and the fact that they just were not honoring Kaleb if he went anywhere outside the paint and they were not honoring JT anywhere outside of 10-12 feet,” Holtmann said.
That cluttered the lane, leaving little room for anybody to get open. And Ohio State, which shot 34.8 percent from three-point range (8 of 23), isn’t a particularly prolific deep-shooting team.
Holtmann has been consistent this season with his belief that plus-minus stats from individual games don’t mean much, but he referenced Tate’s as being reflective of his play. He was a team-worst minus-17 in only 19 minutes.
Wesson, meanwhile, is dealing with mental and physical fatigue, Holtmann said, as well as a lingering ankle injury suffered Feb. 15 at Penn State.
“I think his finishes have not been as strong or were not as strong or his moves were not as decisive in that game as they needed to be,” Holtmann said. “All in all, he did not move as well in that game as maybe what he’s done in the past. They were quicker to balls and they looked more athletic on the interior than we did.”