Finally, Kyle Young experiences Ohio State win at Penn State in front of Nittany fans

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Jamari Wheeler was always going to be the story for this Big Ten opener between Ohio State and Penn State. When the Big Ten opener pits a player who amassed 127 games against the school where he racked up those minutes, it’s going to dominate the storylines

Wheeler lived up to the hype, overcoming a 1-for-6 shooting effort from 3-point range to finish with 9 points, nine assists and five rebounds – along with three steals and a generally pesky presence – to lead Ohio State to a 76-64 win at the Bryce Jordan Center. But in a game where the Buckeyes (6-2, 1-0 Big Ten) built an 18-point lead and led for more than 34 minutes despite a relatively quiet night from E.J. Liddell while fending off the Nittany Lions (4-4, 0-1), fifth-year forward Kyle Young led Ohio State with a season-high 16 points on his best-shooting night of the season.

Young has seen a lot inside this building. He logged 10 minutes off the bench as a first-year player when No. 8 Ohio State took a 79-56 thumping to an unranked Penn State team that would sweep a three-game season series. Two years later, Young started but only saw 14 minutes as No. 21 Ohio State took a 90-76 loss in a stretch that saw the Buckeyes drop six of seven and Young battle appendicitis.

When he finally tasted victory here, it came during the pandemic-affected 2020-21 season played without fans in the stands. It wasn’t until tonight, eight games into his fifth season, that Young got to hand the Nittany Lions and their fans a loss.

“It feels good,” he told The Dispatch. “Coming into this game, we know how hard it is to play here. We know how hard it is to win here. Here, it’s always been tough. They’ve been a team that we’re getting their best shot every time. This is a game we’re always looking at on our schedule because we know it’s going to be a tough, hard-fought 40-minute battle. It felt good to get the win, especially being my fifth year.”

Last season, Young added a 3-point shot to his arsenal and enjoyed increased success as the year progressed. He finished the year 13 for 30 (43.3%), but it hadn’t translated to the early going this year. A vestibular dysfunction slowed him during the preseason, and he entered Sunday having only hit on 3 of 11 (27.3%) from deep.

Against the Nittany Lions, Young would go 4 for 4 from beyond the arc and split them evenly between the first and second halves. His first came with 12:47 to play and gave Ohio State a 17-15 lead it would not relinquish, and less than three minutes later he added another that led to a Penn State timeout with 9:55 to play and the lead up to 27-19.

His performance added to a season-high-tying 12 made 3s by the Buckeyes. In 23:07, Young also added a team-high seven rebounds, blocked a shot and drew five fouls. He was perfect on four free throws, and his only miss came from inside the 3-point line.

Unsurprisingly, Young said this is the best his shot has felt so far this season.

“Yeah, it’s feeling really good,” he said. “I didn’t start off the greatest and wasn’t putting up as many, but I’m never worried. We’ve been putting in so much work. Coaches are always talking to me, my teammates are always talking to me telling me to keep shooting it so once I hit a couple (tonight) they wanted me to keep shooting.”

Justin Ahrens, Meechie Johnson hit big shots

Young made the most, but two of his teammates got the most praise from coach Chris Holtmann for shots of their own.

“I thought the shots of the game were Meechie’s and Justin’s 3s that we needed,” he said.

Ahrens finished 3 for 8 from deep for nine points and Johnson was perfect on two 3-point attempts to finish with eight points. Since hitting the game-winning shot right before the buzzer against No. 21 Seton Hall, Johnson had missed on eight straight 3-point attempts entering Sunday.

His first one came at a critical time. Ohio State scored the first five points of the game, but Penn State answered with buckets on five straight possessions to take a 12-5 lead and force Holtmann to call a timeout. Out of the huddle, Johnson swished a 3-point attempt off a feed from Wheeler.

“We ran an action that’s got two options on it and Meechie’s the second option,” Holtmann said. “Jamari made a great read on it.”

It restarted the offense, and his second 3-pointer was just as important. An 18-point lead had been cut to 64-57 with four minutes to go when Johnson stemmed a 6-0 Penn State run with his second 3-pointer at the 3:52 mark to push it back to a 10-point lead.

The Nittany Lions pulled within six again, but Ahrens hit his third and final 3-pointer to again stem the tide.

“I thought Meechie and Justin’s two 3s were really critical for us when they were collapsing (late), as was Kyle’s,” Holtmann said. “I think we were able to keep it within a little bit of distance there when the crowd got into it.”

E.J. Liddell gets off to slow start

Exactly 13 minutes had passed before E.J. Liddell headed to the free throw line. Ohio State led 27-21 and Liddell, after drawing a foul on John Harrar, hit two free throws for his first points of the game.

With Penn State doubling on every post touch, and Ohio State hitting 7 of its first 12 3-point attempts, Liddell had only attempted two field goals to that point of the game. Both were missed 3-pointers, marking the longest Liddell has gone this season before scoring his first point.

“I’ve got to look at it,” Holtmann said. “I felt like at times we didn’t do a good enough job getting him the ball and he didn’t do a good enough job of asserting himself in a couple mismatches.

"Guys got open shots because of him. Let’s not lose sight of that. That’s what happens when you have a first-team all-league guy.”

Buckeyes basketball:Ohio State opens Big Ten play at Penn State with title drought looming

Here’s when Liddell has scored his first points in each of Ohio State’s prior seven games:

Akron – 13:54

Niagara – 18:48

Bowling Green – 19:04

Xavier – 17:24

Seton Hall – 17:46

Florida – 19:09

Duke – 13:07

Buckeyes continue stretch of wins after No. 1 wins

Tuesday, Ohio State beat No. 1 Duke at Value City Arena to give the program a 10th win against the nation’s top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll. Two of those 10 wins came in the final game of the season, and in the other eight Ohio State was 3-4 in the game following a win against the No. 1 team.

The Buckeyes had lost the first four such games but have now won four straight. Those three other wins:

March 6, 2005 against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament

Feb. 25, 2007 at Michigan

Jan. 7, 2018 against Maryland

Late Penn State run doesn’t concern Buckeyes

Ohio State has had plenty of dramatic endings this season. The season opener was a one-point game won on a basket from Zed Key in the final two seconds. Thirteen days later, Johnson hit his game-winning shot to dispatch Seton Hall in the Fort Myers Tip-Off. Two days after that, Florida turned the tables and won on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

The loss to Xavier and the win against Duke were both one-possession games with 20 seconds to play. Sunday, Penn State never got closer than a two-possession deficit for the final 30:03 but it did get within six points twice in the final three minutes after the Buckeyes led by as many as 18 points.

Young said the team’s experiences earlier in the season helped them handle the late push from the Nittany Lions.

“It definitely helped,” he said. “We’ve had some down-to-the-wire games early this season. That’s only helping us. Especially for the younger guys, having more and more experience in the early part of the season that a lot of teams don’t get. That’s huge, because they’ve came through big for us and for us to have a big season they’ll need to continue to do that.”

Holtmann wasn’t pleased with his team’s 13 turnovers (four from Liddell) that Penn State turned into 18 points but otherwise was not about to apologize for a 12-point road win to open Big Ten play.

“What I would say to people is, do people think that that’s just us? That’s college basketball,” he said. “(If they think that’s just us,) they need to watch more games than just our games, because the reality is that’s college basketball. Teams make runs, and teams make runs at home. We need to do better in some things. We own that, but to say this is something that happens every game or whatever the case may be, go watch another game and you’ll understand that that happens.”

Joey Brunk continues limited role for Buckeyes

Brought in to provide more size and physicality for an Ohio State team that was frequently undersized last season, 6-11 Indiana graduate transfer Joey Brunk seemed a perfect candidate to log significant minutes against the Nittany Lions and 6-9, 240-pound center John Harrar.

Harrar entered the game averaging a double-double at 10.6 points and 10.9 rebounds. He finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season in 25:35 while battling some foul trouble. In 6:09 off the bench, Brunk had two points and an assist.

“We’ll see,” Holtmann said when asked the scenario where Brunk sees more time. “He’s just got to keep working. The question is who are you going to sit right now? That’s the situation with our post depth.”

After scoring a career-high 20 in the Duke win, Key had 4 points, three rebounds, two turnovers and three fouls in 19:30.

In seven games this season including two starts, Brunk is averaging 1.3 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.0 minutes per appearance. Seventeen of his 49 points came in the Bowling Green win.

Penn State win by the numbers

*Ohio State avoided losing a second consecutive conference opener since it dropped three straight from the 2002-03 season through the 2004-05 season.

*After going 11 for 22 (50.0%) from the free-throw line against Duke, the Buckeyes went 10 for 12 (83.3%) against the Nittany Lions. The 12 attempts were the lowest aside from the Bowling Green game, a 31-point blowout win.

*Wheeler’s nine assists are the most ever for an Ohio State player against Penn State.

*First-year guard Malaki Branham scored in double digits for the first time, finishing with 11 points.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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