Notes: Ohio State not apologizing for sloppy Penn State win, Liddell and Sueing step up and more
There are no apologies for winning in this Big Ten.
Wednesday night at Value City Arena, No. 13 Ohio State hosted a Penn State team that, while it had won two straight, was 2-5 in league play and 5-6 overall. The Nittany Lions weren’t projected to do much this season under interim coach Jim Ferry, but Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann spent the early part of the week warning that it would be the start of his team’s most challenging week of the season to date.
So regardless of how they got there, Holtmann and his players left the arena feeling good about an 83-79 win that moved them to 13-4 overall and 7-4 in the Big Ten.
Now, as for the in-between part, there’s plenty of work to be done. The Buckeyes blitzed out to a 14-2 early lead, fell behind by eight and closed with a 6-0 run to snatch the upset away from the Nittany Lions. Ohio State committed a season-high 17 turnovers, went 16:49 without scoring on a possession that didn’t immediately answer a Penn State score and needed big plays down the stretch to hang on.
How you feel about this game probably mirrors your outlook on life. For the Buckeyes, their glass was half full when the final horn sounded.
“It was a really upbeat locker room,” Holtmann said. “We know we’ve got to do some things better. Man, our guys I thought really finished the game in a really good way.”
When the Buckeyes headed to the locker room after singing “Carmen Ohio” toward the family members in attendance, some of them danced. Holtmann gave the crowd a few fist bumps. In the locker room, Duane Washington again led the team in their rendition of “Fight the Team” they perform after wins.
“Everyone was excited,” Justice Sueing said. “It’s hard to win in the Ten. It’s hard to win, period. We celebrate every win, regardless if it’s by a couple points like tonight or 20 or 30. We always are looking to improve, but as long as we come out with the win, coach is happy, we’re happy, we’re going to continue to learn from our mistakes.”
There were plenty of those.
Jamari Wheeler, thief
He’s nabbed as many as five steals in a game this season, but Penn State senior Jamari Wheeler helped ignite the Nittany Lions in the final minute of the first half. With the Buckeyes ahead 43-35 following a pair of free throws from Kyle Young with 42.7 seconds left, Sueing stole the ball from Seth Lundy but quickly lost it to Wheeler, who scored with 16 seconds left.
Nine seconds later, Wheeler stole the ball from Ohio State freshman Meechie Johnson Jr. and laid it in with two seconds left for a four-point spurt that pulled Penn State within 43-39 at the half.
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“Yeah, that’s just unacceptable,” Sueing said. “We can’t close out a half like that, turning the ball over and giving them two buckets. That ultimately I feel like is what gave them that little boost in the second half, had them feeling good. As long as we take care of the ball we could’ve cut that off and I think we would’ve been all right.”
Penn State would then allow a CJ Walker three-pointer on Ohio State’s first possession of the second half before ripping off a 10-0 run to take its first lead of the game at 49-46.
Holtmann blamed himself for the two late turnovers.
“The two turnovers before the half, that was my fault,” he said. “I should’ve called timeout. I put both those guys in a bad spot. We’ve got to have tremendous awareness of (Wheeler). He just causes tremendous havoc, but that last turnover was on me.”
Kyle Young, CJ Walker foul out
Holtmann said repeatedly during the preseason that this team would go as far as its senior leaders would take it.
Against the Nittany Lions, they could only take the Buckeyes so far. Ohio State finished the game without fifth-year senior guard CJ Walker and fourth-year senior Kyle Young, who both fouled out for the second time in their Ohio State careers.
“I should’ve pulled them earlier,” Holtmann said. “It was my fault. Sometimes you go with your gut, and leave guys in there in the guts of the game because I don’t like risking putting them in too late and the game could be out of hand, but that one was my fault.”
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Young had no fouls during the first half. He picked up two in the first four minutes of the second half, stayed in the game and picked up Nos. 3 and 4 with 15:26 and 13:40 remaining, respectively. After picking up his fourth, Young sat until the 10:12 mark when he returned with Penn State leading 61-55.
His fifth foul came with 5:01 to play. In 27 minutes, he finished with 10 points, five rebounds and one turnover. It was the first time he fouled out since a 63-56 home loss to Illinois on February 14, 2019.
In his second game back from injury, Walker had two fouls during the first half but started the second half after opening the game on the bench. His third came with 16:33 to play before subbing out with 14:24 left and returning to the lineup with 11:12 to play.
Walker picked up his fourth with 7:34 to play and Penn State ahead 70-64, stayed in the game and fouled out with 3:29 to play. He finished with six points, three assists and three turnovers in 26 minutes while fouling out for the first time since a 67-55 loss at Maryland on January 7, 2020.
They both could only watch as Ohio State overcame a 73-72 deficit in the final 3:29.
“I think we’ve got multiple guys who can step up,” Holtmann said. “Kyle was the one I felt like I could’ve pulled earlier. I was fine leaving CJ out there because we had a good replacement for him, but we needed Kyle’s energy and defense so that was my fault. We’ve got some depth behind some guys. They’ve proven that. It was good to see some guys finish again.”
E.J. Liddell, Justice Sueing provide key moments
Sueing scored the first two points of the 6-0 run the Buckeyes would close with when he hit a pair of free throws with 1:37 left. Then, with Penn State’s coaching staff urging its players to finish the game, Sueing stole the ball from Seth Lundy, who would finish with a game-high 26 points.
“We saw that Lundy had a hot hand,” he said. “He had it throughout the whole game and we knew in that possession he was going to try to get a shot off. I knew he was looking to score. He turned away from me and he came back and exposed the ball a little bit. That was just enough for me to get a hand on it.”
At the other end, the Buckeyes got the ball to Liddell, who drew a foul on John Harrar on a jumper with 59.7 seconds left. Lundy would miss a go-ahead three-point attempt, and after the Buckeyes were unable to get a shot off and were called for a shot-clock violation with 16.3 seconds left Liddell helped force a Myreon Jones miss, grabbed the rebound and then was fouled with 1.9 seconds left.
“I feel like we were playing good defense so I didn’t really need to go block a shot,” Liddell said of that final defensive possession. “If I’m there I’m going to try my hardest to swing to get in his vision to miss it. We had to rebound, too. Happy Justice got 10 rebounds.”
Then he hit the final free throws to set the score and make him a perfect 10 for 10 from the line.
“I was just emphasizing in the last four-minute war that it’s winning time,” said Liddell, who led the Buckeyes with 22 points. “There’s no better feeling than to get up there and win it for the team and ice the game, put us up four. I was just up there thinking let’s finish the game, let’s win, let’s go home.”
Holtmann cited a few other key moments in the game. After Ohio State had climbed back and taken a 74-73 lead on a Liddell basket with 3:13 to play, Lundy buried a wide-open three-pointer that enraged Holtmann to the point where he punched the scorers’ table near the in-arena microphone and the blast echoed through the mostly empty arena.
Duane Washington Jr. immediately answered with a three for the third lead change in less than a minute.
“Some key plays were Duane coming to his left and getting an open three after Lundy had made an open three,” Holtmann said. “Justice executing one of our actions to get downhill. A couple of actions for E.J. in space, I thought he was tremendous at attacking late. I thought he played with great force, particularly late in the game.”
Justin Ahrens, Musa Jallow make contributions
At the half, junior Justin Ahrens had nine points on 3-of-5 shooting in 11 minutes of playing time. During the second half, he would again play 11 minutes but attempt just one shot. It missed, but he replaced Walker when he fouled out and played the final 3:29.
Holtmann said he didn’t notice Penn State doing anything differently to deny Ahrens the ball during the second half.
“I think we were really focused on trying to attack the paint,” Holtmann said. “They were aware of him, but I’m not sure specifically if there was something they did to take him away. They flew at him a few times. I think we just, we were really we felt like we could get to the paint.”
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Ohio State finished with a 38-24 advantage in points in the paint.
Musa Jallow, meanwhile, has recently been squeezed out of the rotation and did not see any playing time in Saturday’s win at Wisconsin. Against Penn State, Jallow played for the final 42 seconds of the first half but was called upon for his defensive abilities during the final minutes of the game.
Jallow checked in with 4:14 to play and Penn State ahead 73-71, checked out with 3:29 to play and then came back in with 2:26 left and the lead at 77-76. He did not record a statistic in four minutes but Ohio State outscored Penn State by one point while he was on the court.
“I thought Musa was tremendous,” Holtmann said. “Short stint, but he was phenomenal. He just really made it difficult for Lundy late.”
“Musa came in and had some really big minutes,” Liddell said. “Coach emphasizes stay ready on the bench and Musa came in and played great defense and helped us win this game. I can’t thank Musa more for that.”
“What I have to do and we have to do as a staff is help them understand this is the best league in the country. It’s historically good, so there should never be a night where you don’t celebrate finishing a game like we did and winning against a quality opponent. We’ll have a great film session when we practice on Thursday. Bottom line, I want them to enjoy this, absolutely. I want them to play with a smile on their face. To finish the game the way they did, I’m really proud of them.” – Holtmann
“Penn State is a really good team. They have a lot of great scorers. They play together well. I just felt like they were very connected. They know what it takes to win. They have a lot of older guys and they were connected at the offensive end, but at the end of the game we got a couple key stops and offensive rebounds.” – Liddell
“We knew that they lead the Ten in steals. They gamble a lot and play hard and play aggressive on D. We let them turn us over a little bit too much. We knew they were going to be aggressive. I think we did a pretty good job for the most part. Just minor things we need to do better on.” – Sueing