An inability to put teams away, a lack of toughness or simply missing shots — no matter how you look at it, the Ohio State Buckeyes are no longer undefeated against Penn State with Thad Matta as their coach.
Matta’s streak of 17 straight wins against the Nittany Lions came to an end Wednesday, after a jumper in the lane by Penn State redshirt-junior guard D.J. Newbill with 1.9 seconds left in overtime gave them the lead, 71-70. OSU senior guard Aaron Craft was unable to get a shot off at the buzzer and the Buckeyes suffered their fifth loss in six games.
“We weren’t the tougher basketball team tonight,” Craft said after the loss. “That’s what it comes down to, 10-point lead with however much time we have left, and we just couldn’t do it.”
Newbill carried Penn State down the stretch, scoring 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half and overtime, including a 3-pointer that tied the game with 11 seconds left in regulation.
“This was more than a winnable basketball game,” Matta said after the loss. “It’s one of those things that we’ve got to — we gotta be a tougher physically and tougher mentally basketball team.”
The Buckeyes held the lead for the majority of the second half, but were unable to convert when it counted, failing on three attempts before the buzzer sounded in regulation to win.
Senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. was at a loss for words following the game, but did say the loss “hurts the most out of every game” since he’s been a Buckeye.
“This is embarrassing,” Smith Jr. said. “Every other team in our conference is laughing at us right now.”
The Nittany Lions (11-10, 2-6), jumped out to an early 15-11 lead on OSU, aided by just 3-10 shooting by the Buckeyes in the game’s first eight minutes.
OSU’s shooting percentage improved late in the half, as it used a 7-3 run to take a 35-31 lead into halftime.
The Buckeyes (16-5, 3-5) would increase the lead to 11 after two free throws by junior forward LaQuinton Ross, but Penn State would not go away.
OSU had multiple opportunities to extend the lead, but was unable to do it and Newbill hit big shots down the stretch to secure the win.
Ross led OSU with 16 points and seven rebounds, and Smith Jr. added 15 points of his own in the loss.
OSU’s last two losses come by a combined seven points to Nebraska Jan. 20 and Penn State. Both are teams that typically sit near the bottom of the Big Ten standings throughout the course of the season, so are OSU’s problems stemming from a lack of motivation against the traditionally weaker conference opponents?
“I would hope not,” Matta said. “I would hope not. Yeah, I would hope not.”
For Penn State — who has three conference losses by three points or less — a road win against OSU is “exciting,” Nittany Lion head coach Pat Chambers said.
“I’m excited for the kids, for our players,” Chambers said after his team’s win. “It’s so hard, losing by a possession and the ball doesn’t bounce your way … I’m happy for them. They deserved to get one back, so to speak.”
For whatever reason, OSU continues to struggle as it makes it way through the rugged Big Ten. The Buckeyes are just 1-5 since starting the season 15-0.
“In this league, if you don’t come to play every night, you’re going to lose, as you see tonight,” Smith Jr. said, seemingly shaking off tears. “Top 25 teams at home don’t lose these games. And we lost.”
Up next, OSU is set to travel to No. 14 Wisconsin (17-3, 4-3) to take on the Badgers at noon Saturday in Madison, Wis.