In black and white, Mike Schrage got in one final lamentation about the biggest thorn in Ohio State’s side last season in men’s basketball.
As the assistant coach was filling out his performance review for the 2017-18 season — the first for head coach Chris Holtmann and his staff — he completed a “summary and highlights” section by noting the national ranking of the 2018 recruiting class, the fact that the team wildly outperformed preseason expectations and then the fact that he helped develop game plans “that beat every team in our conference except (one).”
Then came the punch line, delivered in parenthesis: “(Darn Penn State).”
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Thursday marks the lone chance for the Buckeyes to do this season what they couldn’t last season: beat the Nittany Lions. Although the key faces for both teams are gone in the form of Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop and Penn State’s Tony Carr, the fact remains that of the nine losses the Buckeyes took in Holtmann’s first season, Penn State delivered three of them.
“It came up some (during the offseason),” Holtmann said Wednesday. “Listen, they had a really good year last year. They beat us. We give them credit. It wasn’t like it came up in every conversation, but certainly there were people that took their fun jabs and shots, and that’s part of it.”
Only five current Buckeyes played against the Nittany Lions last season, and one of them — sophomore forward Kyle Young — was an unused substitute in two of them. Young has missed the last four games because of a stress fracture in his lower right leg, but Holtmann described him Wednesday as “day to day” and did not rule him out for the game. No timetable was given for his return when the injury was announced.
Young — along with C.J. Jackson, Musa Jallow, Kaleb Wesson and Andre Wesson — accounted for 40 percent of the minutes played. Jallow, like Young, did not play in the Big Ten tournament loss to Penn State.
“They’re a different team; we’re a different team,” Holtmann said. “There are always things you’re looking to see if you can do better, particularly if a team has beaten you three times.”
Carr played spoiler throughout, hitting the winning three-pointer as time expired to give the Buckeyes their first Big Ten loss in the first matchup. The Nittany Lions drilled the Buckeyes in the rematch on their home floor, then outlasted them by one point in overtime at Madison Square Garden as Carr shot 60.9 percent and averaged 27.7 points against them.
He is now safely in Italy playing professional basketball, and without him the Nittany Lions broke an 0-10 start to Big Ten play with a 59-52 win on Monday at Northwestern. As a team, Penn State is the 297th-most experienced in Division I, slightly younger than the Buckeyes at No. 258.
Graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods was with Wake Forest last season, but he is familiar with how last season went against Penn State. He also is the type of player who said he can vividly remember every loss of his career and the teams that have beaten him.
“It’s been mentioned,” he said. “We know it’s important for the guys that played last year to make sure we all come out and play hard and get this win because of how they lost three times last year.”