It took every bit of soul for Ohio State to exorcise one of its biggest demons.
In a nerve-wracking, whistle-strewn, drag-down battle that was waged until the final seconds, the Buckeyes got right against a Penn State team that handed them three of their nine losses a season ago with a physical, emotionally exhausting 74-70 win in Big Ten play on Thursday night at Value City Arena.
The outcome of a game with eight lead changes and four ties in the second half wasn’t set until C.J. Jackson hit two free throws with 19 seconds remaining to set the final score. That capped a 5-0 run for Ohio State in the final 63 seconds, during which Penn State had a game-tying basket waved off after a video review and another rim out from point-blank range.
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“Coach was just telling us we had to match their intensity and come out playing harder than them,” said freshman guard Luther Muhammad, who had 11 of his team-high 20 points in the second half. “We can’t let anybody out-tough us at home.”
They nearly did. The Buckeyes (15-7, 5-6) used a 22-1 run to build a 15-point lead in the first half lead against a Nittany Lions team three days removed from its lone conference win. Ohio State looked to be in control — until suddenly it wasn’t.
With a 1-2-2 press that the Buckeyes hadn’t extensively prepared for, Penn State (8-15, 1-11) forced five turnovers in the final 4:23 of the first half, including four on Ohio State’s final five possessions. At one point, from the same spot in the press, Jamari Wheeler came up with three steals in the span of 51 seconds.
Ohio State then pushed the lead out to nine points early in the second half, but a 10-0 Penn State run set up a dramatic finish. Kyle Young, back in the lineup after missing the last four games with a stress fracture to his lower right leg, scored the go-ahead basket when he took a pass from Jackson on the block, hesitated for a second to draw his defender out of position and then scored right before the shot clock buzzed to make it 71-70.
He then blocked Lamar Stevens at the rim, and after the ball went out of bounds Penn State threw a lob to Stevens that he caught over Jackson and laid in, only to have video replay overturn it for a shot-clock violation. Andre Wesson hit the second of two free throws with 29.7 seconds left, and Rasir Bolton missed an open layup at the rim before Jackson grabbed the rebound and hit his free throws.
The teams were whistled for a combined 44 fouls: 23 on Penn State and 21 on Ohio State.
“That was a rugged, Big Ten fight, that’s for sure,” Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann said. “Give our guys a lot of credit. I thought they made gutsy, gutsy plays and finished the game like we needed to.”
Muhammad was in control throughout, adding four assists with no turnovers on a night when the Buckeyes had 18.