Look, Ohio State is terrific. There’s no shame in losing to this team right now. The Buckeyes have been fantastic of late, they’re ranked No. 4, are in position to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and have all the parts you need to make a Final Four run.
But man, Penn State once again looked to be in position to beat this team.
And once again, the Nittany Lions fell apart.
The Lions were up by 8 points — 59-51 — with 14:53 to go Thursday night. But they went ice cold for a spurt, Ohio State remained calm and went on a 15-0 run, and the Buckeyes stuck perhaps the final dagger into PSU’s NCAA Tournament hopes with a 92-82 win at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Man, what could have been this season.
A season of so many blown opportunities and close calls that it would be nearly impossible to believe it could happen to a team.
Except for when that team is Penn State basketball.
The last time these teams played, in Columbus, PSU was up 70-62 with 8:14 remaining. And blew it, as the Buckeyes stormed back for an 83-79 win.
Can you imagine what holding on in both of those games would have done for this PSU team? Wins in those two games would have the Lions on the right side of the bubble and projected to be in the NCAA Tournament.
But that — as long, long-suffering Penn State basketball fans know all too well — just never seems to be this program’s fate.
No, this program’s destiny is to create the same movie — over and over and over and over again — and to force its fans to keep paying for tickets to watch the movie. Fans, meanwhile, can recite every word to the movie by heart because they’ve seen it so damn many times.
What it means: Penn State is now 4-10 in the Big Ten and 7-11 overall. There are five regular-season games left, and the Lions will have to win all five to have any chance at the NCAA Tournament. Oh, a trip to No. 11 Iowa awaits, and a matchup with the best player in the country, Luka Garza.
How did it happen? It happened because Ohio State has better players who play better in the clutch and who run an offensive system that is just flat out superior to what PSU runs. I get into this more down below, but man, Ohio State’s offense is fun to watch. Their ball movement, player movement and spacing are excellent, like watching traditional Wisconsin teams.
Penn State, on the other hand, is a jump shooting team. If the Lions make shots, they can beat anybody. And they made a lot of shots Thursday, topping 80 points. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
But after taking that 59-51 lead, PSU scored only two points over the next five minutes. It happened while Ohio State was storming back and making just about everything in building its own 69-61 lead. The Lions hung around the rest of the way, but that dry spell and the Buckeyes’ good offense during the same span decided the game.
**There was hope: Penn State always has that one crazy game each season where it knocks off a fantastic team that, on paper, it has no business beating. When the Lions took their 8-point lead, it should have been a time to focus on picking up that great win. But PSU fans, as I keep saying, knew what was coming.
There have been, like, 74 sequels to that movie over the years.
We'll see if there's another.
PSU now up 59-51 with 14:50 to go. https://t.co/4rSEjU0mO6
— Cory Giger (@CoryGiger) February 19, 2021
**The coaching situation: It would take a miracle run late and/or in the Big Ten Tournament for interim coach Jim Ferry to have any chance to get the full-time head coaching job. Yes, the team has been competitive all season, and that’s a credit to Ferry. But seeing the same collapse movie over and over will only hammer home to Sandy Barbour and the PSU search committee that it’s time for a change and to give someone else a chance to lead the program.
**Ohio State ran some really pretty and crisp offensive sets in the first half, leading to 47 points and 65 percent shooting (67 percent from 3). The Buckeyes showed great ball movement and had guys moving really well without the ball. They excel at entry passes and getting their big guys open down low. Now, that’s a lot easier against Penn State, which doesn’t have a strong inside game. Still, it was fun watching such an efficient offense.
**Penn State, meanwhile, scored a season-high 43 points in the first half. The Lions didn’t have the ball or player movement that Ohio State had, but they made a lot of shots, which has been a problem lately.
**Jamari Wheeler went down with a leg injury with 41 seconds left in the first half. He was on the floor for a minute and needed some help walking off. Wheeler hit some big shots in the first half, including back-to-back 3-pointers to help PSU rally after falling behind early.