Penn State Perspective
by Jonny Gaunt
Perspective is everything. Penn State traveled to Columbus on Thursday evening looking to avoid an upset that could negatively effect their NCAA Tournament résumé. Meanwhile, Ohio State was looking to stop the bleeding after losing their last 8 games and postseason hopes long gone. Penn State’s senior guard Jalen Pickett is having a phenomenal season and is in the conversation for Big Ten player of the year averaging 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. One of Ohio State’s best players, Zed Key has been hampered with a shoulder injury for much of the season and was finally shut down for the year earlier this week.
Despite polar opposite perspectives coming into the game, the matchup between the two teams was remarkably even with both teams focusing on outside shooting considering lineups lacking the traditional Big Ten size inside. From a neutral perspective, the game was highly entertaining with a quick-paced and free-flowing nature. Early on, the 3-point shots came in droves. Penn State, who leads the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage (38.9%) and makes per game (10.9), took advantage of the space on the floor, shooting 54.5% in the first half.
However, the Buckeyes were able to match them for much of the first half as freshman standouts Bruce Thornton and Bryce Sensabaugh put on an offensive performance. Sensabaugh looked every bit of the first round NBA draft pick he is projected to be later this year, scoring 20 points. He continued to show off his size and ability to hit a variety of shots on the floor that should translate well to the next level. Sensabaugh’s production on the attack has been the closest thing to consistency in this off-year for the Buckeyes. Typically, when he has a running mate, there has been a great chance that Ohio State is able to pull out the victory. On this night he had that with Thornton who finished with 19 points, his second highest output of the year.
The Buckeyes couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game in many ways. In the first half, Sensabaugh and Thornton were strong offensively, Ohio State had zero first half turnovers, and Penn State’s Pickett only recorded 2 points in 9 minutes as he was in foul trouble early. Yet, the game was still tied at halftime. Ohio State had an opportunity to open up a significant lead given those factors, but couldn't capitalize. In a game that Penn State couldn’t afford to lose, Seth Lundy and Camren Wynter came through at the most crucial moment. Scoring 19 and 18 respectively with 8 threes between them, they kept the team afloat in the game and perhaps the season as a whole.
The tone changed, though, as Pickett avoided foul trouble in the second half. Ohio State continued to protect the ball only turning it over once over the course of the whole game, but Penn State minimized their own turnovers with just four. Ohio State shot a solid 46% from the field, but Penn State couldn’t be stopped offensively, shooting nearly 52%. Truly an even battle on the court with 20 lead changes and 5 ties throughout, the margins remained razor thin until the last five minutes of the game. Suddenly, the game began to slow down and transition to the half court. It was time for Jalen Pickett to take over and he seized it with both hands. The Lion’s leader came through, scoring the team’s final 14 points of the game. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, there was no answer to be heard as they were unable to get defensive stops down the stretch and failed to execute in the half court. Their last gasps summed up the misfortune of a difficult season with five straight missed threes in their final possession as the clock ran out. Penn State claimed the road victory 75-71.
It was difficult not to feel bad for the young men as Sensabaugh and Thornton answered each press conference question thoughtfully after the game. The disappointment despite their best efforts was easy to see, but their mindset seemed resolved. They believe there is progress, but each of them need to improve in the little details that tend to cost their team at the end of games. This team is perhaps better than their record shows, but Ohio State will have a long off- season before they have another chance at the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the offensive firepower Penn State possesses means they not only can make the tournament, but have the opportunity to wreak chaos on the higher seed that draws them when the field is announced.
Penn State's tournament hopes seemed hopeless following a four-game win streak, but Micah Shrewsberry's team resurrected those dreams with their third straight win in Columbus. Considering the Nittany Lions' tedious position on the bubble, every game feels like a "must win." They now possess a 17-11 record, and 8-9 within the Big Ten. As of now, according to our bracketology, Penn State still sits on the outside looking in (but only barely) but has key opportunities in their final three games and the Big Ten Tournament. Finishing the regular season 2-1 seems like the minimum requirement and more work will need to be done in Chicago. But, if the Lions can add key wins to their resume and reach a 21-13 record overall, expect to see them dancing in March.
Penn State Remaining Schedule
Bubble Watch - (as of Feb 23)