The Ohio State men’s basketball team has just two games remaining on its regular season schedule, and one of its seniors said the team will need two things to pick up a win in its second-to-last game.
“Execution. Toughness. Both defensively and offensively,” senior forward Sam Thompson said. “It’s who’s stronger willed, who’s gonna get the stop, who’s gonna get the bucket.”
The Buckeyes are set to take on Penn State on Wednesday night for the second time this season, after blowing out the Nittany Lions, 75-55, on Feb. 11 at the Schottenstein Center.
Despite the big win, Thompson said the Buckeyes can’t let their guard down against a Penn State team that defeated OSU in both meetings in 2014.
“They played us tough here. I think we pulled away at the end. They are a team that plays hard, they make shots, they play tough and they are going to leave it all out on the floor,” Thompson said. “We have to match their energy level, we have to match their intensity in order to come out of there with a win.”
Last season in State College, Pa., the Buckeyes fell, 65-63, to the Nittany Lions, marking just the second loss to Penn State by a Thad Matta-coached Buckeye squad.
That loss also occurred on Penn State’s senior night, as will Wednesday’s game in the Bryce Jordan Center, something Thompson said he believes will add extra motivation for a struggling Nittany Lion squad.
“They are going to play that much more juiced. The seniors have worked tremendously hard for the last four years, just like our seniors have,” Thompson said. “Last year, we went in on senior night and didn’t take care of business, so this year, we have to have that much more of an added focus to do what we need to do.”
In that two-point loss a year ago, Penn State was led by now-senior guard D.J. Newbill with 23 points. Newbill, who is the Big Ten’s leading scorer, scored 16 points on the Buckeyes in their first matchup this season.
In that same game, Thompson drew the assignment of guarding Newbill for most of the night, and scored a career-high 22 points for OSU. He said despite his success in the first game, he cannot forget about Newbill’s abilities.
“He is really kind of that team’s engine. The first time, we just wanted to contest everything, make it tough for him. We wanted to do our best to keep him off the free-throw line and keep him from getting those easy lay ups at the rim to get himself going,” Thompson said. “We will need another effort like that again tomorrow in order to be successful.”
Thompson not only succeeded against Penn State, but is coming off a 14-point, five-rebound performance against Purdue on Sunday, which earned him praise from Matta.
“He did some things the other night — as I told guys in film — that I expect Sam Thompson to be making those plays as a senior in our program,” Matta said. “From my perspective, honestly, I just want to win tomorrow night’s game and play as well as we can.”
To accomplish Matta’s goal, redshirt-freshman guard Kam Williams said OSU will have to go back to Thompson’s two original keys for victory.
“Like Sam said earlier, it comes down to two things: execution and toughness. We know if we are a tough basketball team, we are going to win the game. And to do that, we have to execute for 40 minutes,” Williams said. “When we execute, the film and the stats show that our offense and our defense is second to none. I feel like if we capitalize on those two things, we have a great shot at winning.”
Thompson, who is playing his last true road game as a Buckeye, said OSU cannot afford to drop another game this late in the year.
“It’s too late for letdowns. We can’t come out in the month of March and lay an egg in the way that we did a few weeks ago at Michigan,” he said. “We all have a sense of urgency about us, we all know what’s at stake and it’s our job to go out and execute.”
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are set to tip at 6 p.m.