Congratulate Penn State — And Don’t You Dare Start To Panic

By Jeff Rapp, January 25th, 2018

The music continued to blare in the visiting locker room of the Schottenstein Center well after Penn State stunned Ohio State out on the hardwood – and it should.

Sports highlight shows already were showing Tony Carr’s heroic 36-foot bank shot that provided the 82-79 upset of the Buckeyes – as they should.

Carr, who gave the Buckeyes fits all night and one-upped OSU’s Keita Bates-Diop, was being hailed as a marquee player in the conference – as he should.

Great program win for Penn State; reason for coach Patrick Chambers to smile for a long time.

Still – and call me crazy if you’d like – I can’t help but see tons of positives from the Ohio State side of things.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s no fun to lose on your home floor at the buzzer and watch your undefeated league season be tarnished. That hurts. The Buckeyes are now 18-5 overall and 9-1 in conference play. They fell behind in the standings to No. 3 Purdue, which edged out Michigan at home earlier in the evening.

No experts and zero bracketologists expected Ohio State to roll all the way through the Big Ten ledger and claim a higher NCAA Tournament seed than the Boilermakers or mighty Michigan State. Some of them are predicting Michigan to inch by the Buckeyes as well.

A loss was inevitiable. But the fact that the Nittany Lions (14-8, 4-5) had to play to near perfection and still sling in a halfcourt hopeful to be the first to unseat the Buckeyes also says something about the resolve and character of the host team.

Consider that the Buckeyes were that close to taking the game ot overtime on a wave of momentum despite the following obstacles:

* Penn State was 11 of 14 from behind the arc. Let me repeat that: ELEVEN of fourteen. That’s 78.6 percent. The Lions opened the game by draining their first five three-balls before the first media timeout and rapidly opened up a double-digit lead. Carr was 4 of 5 from deep as was Shep Garner.

* Carr finished with a game-high 28 points and added five assists compared to just two turnovers. He was 10 of 14 from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 from the foul line.

* Penn State turned the ball over just twice in the second half and also shot an even 50.0 percent from two-point range.

* Bates-Diop played with a touchy stomach flu and for some reason had several questionable foul calls go against him. He entered the contest with no more than two fouls in any previous conference game this season but picked up his fourth not even six minutes into the second half and had to sit for several minutes while the Lions rebuilt a double-digit lead.

* To make matters worse, Jae’Sean Tate also was called for four fouls, including one that came on a particularly rotten call. In a key second-half sequence, Tate hopped inside the lane and scored over Lamar Stevens, who clearly was set but just as clearly leaned into Tate. Instead of a crowd-infusing three-point play off a fast break, Tate was called for a charge and the basket was waived off. That proved to be a huge play.

It would be difficult for any team, even an elite one, to overcome that kind of perfect storm. The Nittany Lions couldn’t miss from long range, got calls and came up with very timely plays.

And still the Buckeyes were right there, tied, in fact, when Bates-Diop nailed a straight-on 25-foot three with a hand in his face with five ticks left. He courageously produced 25 points and seemed to get his stroke back after a minor shooting slump.

“He has played great against us every year,” Chambers said of Bates-Diop, a redshirt junior. “He has been fantastic, and when he went down (with an injury) last year, I knew it was going to be rough for Ohio State.

“The shots he made tonight were unbelievable. He is a big-time player.”

Perhaps the Buckeyes lean on Bates-Diop too much but the versatile 6-7 forward once again showed he is an emerging star in the college game and someone who makes the Buckeyes dangerous come March.

Plus, it would be difficult to watch this team performance and, even in defeat, not be impressed with the heart the Buckeyes showcased. Consider the following:

* The Buckeyes won the hustle categories with 25 rebounds to PSU’s 21 as well as four blocks and five steals. On one possession, Tate was stripped turning to the basket and dove over his defender to fall on the loose ball. The Lions were so stunned he was able to retrieve it that they didn’t go to tie him up immediately, allowing the senior to smartly signal for a timeout.

* OSU made 28 of 50 shots (56.0 percent) – not an easy feat when you’re playing catch-up all night. They showed patience and poise even while in scramble mode.

* The Buckeyes made all 16 free throws. Yes that ties a school record.

* All five starters had at least four field goals and scored in double figures. This is another great sign for a team that has designs on staying in the Big Ten race.

* Andrew Dakich again came up big off the bench. His stat line was very modest, but Dakich hit a big three and also came up with a late steal that allowed the Buckeyes to cut a six-point deficit in half. He simply belongs on the floor in meaningful moments, especially defensively.

The Buckeyes started the second half of the Big Ten regular season with a tough loss but are still staring at a pair of winnable home games next week – vs. Indiana on Jan. 30 and Illinois on Feb. 4 – before a huge trip to Purdue on Feb. 7.

Following that is a home game against Iowa, a team OSU defeated 92-81 on Jan. 4, and then a little payback game at Penn State on Feb. 15. It’s not outrageous to think the Buckeyes could be 13-2 at that point heading into the final stretch which has them playing at Michigan, home vs. Rutgers and at Indiana.

A lot could happen when the pressure of a potential league crowns mounts. Will the Buckeyes be able to handle it? Will they stay in the race?

Well, they have to remain healthy and I’m guessing Chris Holtmann wants to re-address his team defense. But the hustle and grit are still there. So is the determination and trust.

You can’t measure those intangibles but I’ve been around this game long enough to know they count for an awful lot.