INDIANAPOLIS — As the first half came to a close in Penn State’s 71-68 win over Ohio State, Penn State senior Myles Dread’s encouraging yell made one thing clear: the Nittany Lions weren’t ready for their season to end just yet.
In the second half, they came out and proved it.
Penn State started the second half with a 12-6 run to erase most of the nine-point halftime lead the Buckeyes had built, then followed part of the same formula they had used to best Minnesota in the opening round. When the final 10 minutes arrived, the Nittany Lions made their move again, taking the lead for good on back-to-back 3-pointers from Dread and Seth Lundy.
Over the final 10 minutes, Penn State outscored Ohio State 29-17, closing out the Buckeyes on Thursday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse and earning a date with Purdue in Friday night’s Big Ten quarterfinals.
“We don’t want to go home,” said Dread, who scored 12 points and was a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc. “That’s the main thing. Today, I mean, playing in the Big Ten Tournament, just don’t want to go home. You have to have that chip on your shoulder to just go out and fight as hard as you can for as long as you can.
“It’s 40 minutes of basketball. You’ve got to be prepared to play all 40 minutes as hard as you can.”
Early on, it didn’t look like Penn State (14-16) was going to last much longer than four minutes, let alone 40. Ohio State (19-11) opened the game on a 15-4 run and appeared poised to break the game open when the Nittany Lions started the game with either a missed shot or a turnover on their first seven possessions.
“I didn’t think our physicality was very good offensively in the first half,” Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry said. “(Ohio State players) E.J. Liddell and Joey Brunk wanted the ball in the post. They caught it with one or two feet in the paint, right? First play of the game, Pickett drives the post and gets pushed all the way out to the 3-point line. There’s the difference right there.”
The Nittany Lions never found a true answer for Liddell, who led all scorers with 25 points, but they did fix the issues with their physicality when they went to the locker room. In the second half, Penn State proved much more assertive and Ohio State’s injury problems caught up with it when the Buckeyes couldn’t keep the Nittany Lions out of the paint.
As the Buckeyes’ frustrations mounted at the offensive end of the court, Penn State took full advantage. The Nittany Lions punished the Buckeyes in the interior in the second half, scoring 24 of their 47 second-half points in the paint and adding another 12 at the foul line.
“Credit to Penn State, they played really hard,” Liddell said. “We knew what type of game this was going to be, they’re a gritty team. They just played hard.”
When the Buckeyes tried to adjust, they left the door open for Penn State to exploit the holes in their defense. After Dread and Lundy’s back-to-back deep shots put the Nittany Lions ahead for the first time, Sam Sessoms put the game out of reach by driving the lane on consecutive possessions, scoring both times and drawing a foul on one of his baskets for a five-point spurt.
“I came to (Jalen Pickett) during the timeout and I was just telling him, like, hey, bro, I know I could get to the spot again to make my layups,” said Sessoms, who scored 18 points to pace Penn State. “And he just said, all right, well, do you and just make the right decision.”
And just like they had against Minnesota, the Nittany Lions made nearly all the right decisions, turning the tables on the Buckeyes after falling twice to Ohio State during the regular season. In the process, they earned the right to play in the Big Ten quarterfinals for the third time in the past four years.
“I said it yesterday, I love playing with this group of guys,” Sessoms said. “I wanted to get one opportunity. We made it to the second day last year and lost on a last second decision made by me, so I’m just happy to make it to Friday along with this group of guys because we really deserve it.”