Penn State overcomes second-half deficit, sends Ohio State home early in Big Ten tournament
INDIANAPOLIS – On a day where no lead seemed safe in the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State proved to be no exception.
Seeking to turn over a new postseason leaf after dropping three of their final four games of the regular season, the No. 6-seeded Buckeyes built an early lead, traded blows and were ahead, 51-42, when E.J. Liddell hit a pair of free throws with 10:43 remaining at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
From there, Penn State picked up where Maryland, Nebraska and Michigan left off during the final eight days of the regular season. The Nittany Lions put their guards in pick-and-roll situations in the middle of the floor, the Buckeyes couldn't string together stops and No. 11 seed Penn State (14-16) scored the 71-68 upset in the second round of the tournament.
Penn State did not take its first lead until Seth Lundy canned a wide-open 3-pointer with 5:57 to play. That made it a 56-54 lead and capped a 14-3 run for the Nittany Lions during which the Buckeyes missed three shots and had consecutive turnovers from Malaki Branham.
Penn State would push it to four, and a Liddell free throw with 1:03 to play pulled the Buckeyes within 66-63 but Branham fouled Jalen Pickett on a drive with 45.2 seconds remaining. He hit both side of the one-and-one, and that would be too much.
Liddell led the Buckeyes with 25 points, but the Nittany Lions scored 47 second-half points to come roaring back. Penn State shot 61.5% from the floor after halftime.
By the time the Ohio State pep band and cheer squad arrived late thanks to a traffic issue, Ohio State had taken a 22-12 lead. When the band played its first notes of the night, the Buckeyes were heading down the tunnel into the locker room with a 33-24 lead.
E.J. Liddell had ensured that the Buckeyes never trailed while getting to that point. He swished a 3-pointer from straight-on to open the game, and when he buried another 3 moments later he stared at his right hand in mock disbelief while running back up the court as Penn State called timeout. The Buckeyes led 15-4 at that point with 11:32 remaining in the half, and Liddell had 10 of those points.
Ohio State was without Kyle Young, who missed his third game while in concussion protocol. He did not watch the game from the bench, but a familiar face was in a luxury box: former Ohio State guard Duane Washington Jr. After scoring 92 points in four games during this tournament last year, Washington is now playing for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, who call the arena home, and their G-League affiliate in Fort Wayne.
Liddell had 12 by halftime to lead all scorers, as the Buckeyes kept Penn State from scoring a single second-chance point while winning the rebounding battle 17-15. Joey Brunk and Gene Brown battled Penn State’s John Harrar down low, and Jamari Wheeler – his team for the last four seasons – stripped him on one put-back opportunity despite giving up eight inches and 70 pounds to the Penn State big man.
Without Young and with Zed Key listed as a game-time decision with an ankle injury, Ohio State stuck with a starting lineup of Wheeler, Branham, Justin Ahrens, Liddell and Brunk. That lineup outscored Michigan 33-29 in 17:27 last Sunday but had not appeared together during either of the two regular-season meetings between these teams.