The scouting report contained the usual particulars detailing how Penn State wanted to play Ohio State. Secrets are hard to come by in the dregs of Big Ten play.
But the overall message to the No. 16 Buckeyes as they prepared to host the Nittany Lions: play hard. Play really hard. If Penn State leaves Value City Arena on Sunday afternoon with a victory, it will be directly attributed to that intangible factor.
The Nittany Lions dictated the tempo of the game. The Buckeyes played that game, controlled the glass, took care of the ball better than they had all season and won 61-56. It was their lowest-scoring victory since a 61-58 win at Michigan on Feb. 4, 2020.
"I give their defense a lot of credit," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "Our offense will be fine. That’s the least of our concerns. We’ve just got to keep taking good shots. The ball’s got to move a little bit more than it did today."
Ohio State (11-4, 5-2 Big Ten) took the lead with 11:58 left in the first half on a Jamari Wheeler layup, led by as many as 10 points at 44-34 but had to hang on down the stretch as Penn State (8-7, 3-4) did enough to keep the final outcome in doubt until the last whistle.
When Kyle Young knocked the ball away from Sam Sessoms, dove on it and called timeout to keep possession with 1:23 to play and the lead at 54-49, Holtmann pumped his fists and sprinted in Young's direction.
After the timeout, Young drew a foul and hit both free throws to push the lead back to seven. Penn State made it a 60-56 game with 7.2 seconds left on a Sessoms 3-pointer.
Ohio State finished with a 37-30 rebounding edge, committed a season-low nine turnovers and shot 36 free throws against a Penn State team that had won three of its prior four games.
"This is the first team that’s outrebounded us in the last four games," Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said. "I thought they out-competed us. When you’re playing a close game like this where pretty much everything is equal besides the free throws, it comes down to those plays. They made them and we didn’t."
Ohio State's E.J. Liddell led all scorers with 19 points. Sessoms led Penn State with 15.
When the first media timeout arrived, Penn State held a 10-4 lead with 15:02 remaining in the half after making four of its first nine shots. From there, Ohio State tightened up its defense and did enough offensively to take control. After getting a layup from Sessoms with 15:17 left, the Nittany Lions did not connect on another field goal until 8:27 remained when a Greg Lee putback cut the Ohio State lead to 17-13.
In between, Ohio State forced Penn State to miss eight straight shots and turn it over twice. With possessions at a premium in a game played at Penn State’s preferred pace, the Buckeyes built that 17-11 lead with a 13-1 run and pushed it as high as 23-14 during the first half when Joey Brunk scored in the paint with 5:52 to play.
From there, though, the Ohio State offense stagnated for the remainder of the half. The Buckeyes missed their final six shots, including a point-blank put-back from Liddell right before the buzzer, to take only a 27-22 halftime lead into the locker room. Ohio State out-rebounded Penn State 21-18 in the half, committed only three turnovers and had an all-around effort from Liddell (19 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks).
Penn State was without leading scorer Seth Lundy, who did not make the trip. He has averaged 14.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season and scored 13 points in the previous meeting between these teams this season. Ohio State was also without guard Meechie Johnson Jr. for a second straight game due to a facial injury.
Wheeler, who spent the last four seasons at Penn State, exited the postgame interview session having swept the season series against his former teammates.
"We brought the brooms out today," he said.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Buckeyes withstand deliberate Nittany Lions in low-scoring home win