Rapp Around: (Finally) Skinning The Lions

By Jeff Rapp, February 7th, 2019

It’s beat Penn State week.

The Ohio State women’s basketball team just completed a sweep of the Nittany Lions on Wednesday and the nation’s top two wrestling squads – OSU and PSU – will tangle on Friday night in St. John Arena.

But to get the “just like foot-ball” chants ringing on campus, the Ohio State men’s basketball team needed to exorcise some demons on Thursday and finally turn the tide against the Lions at the Schottenstein.

It actually happened – but, of course, it wasn’t easy.

Last season – famously or infamously, depending on your viewpoint – Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes lost all three contests against Penn State in frustrating fashion. That included a 69-68 setback in the Big Ten Tournament that seemingly relegated OSU to NCAA Tournament purgatory, also known as Boise, Idaho.

More than 11 months later, the Buckeyes did just enough down the stretch and got to taste a bit of redemption with a hard-earned 74-70 win before a boisterous crowd of 15,824. That it came against a team that came in with an ugly 1-10 Big Ten record did not matter. There finally was a smidgeon of joy in Mudville.

“That was one rugged Big Ten fight,” said Holtmann, after proclaiming he was in need of a nap. “Give Penn State a lot of credit because they play exceptionally hard. Give our guys credit. They made a lot of gutsy plays and finished the game like we needed to. Our guys showed great will tonight.”

On a night when every other possession felt like disaster, the Buckeyes avoided a monumental one and somehow improved to 15-7 overall and 5-6 in the conference. That sets up a chance to get back to level in league play at Indiana on Sunday (1 p.m. Eastern, CBS). The Hoosiers came back down to earth on Thursday, losing at home to Iowa just days after stunning Michigan State in East Lansing.

Penn State dipped to the depths of the Big Ten (8-15, 1-11), but once again proved to be a decided pain in the rump, especially on a night when the zebras couldn’t seem to find any sort of rhythm other than that of a symphony of whistles – 44 of them overall.

The Lions were active and pesky on defense, causing the Buckeyes to commit 18 turnovers. They converted a bunch of the takeaways into points, 22 in all.

After the game, Holtmann labeled PSU’s Josh Reaves, who had five steals and several breakaways, as “the best perimeter defender I’ve ever coached against.”

Reeves and Lamar Stevens led Penn State with 20 points apiece, a total match by OSU’s Luther Muhammad, who added five rebounds and four assists. Muhammad made several clutch plays down the stretch and canned all eight of his free-throw attempts. He played a career-high 38 minutes, proving his worth.

OSU got a boost from forward Kyle Young, who had six points and six rebounds in 25 minutes – 10 more than Holtmann anticipated. Young had not played since a home loss to Maryland on Jan. 18 after suffering a stress fracture in his leg.

C.J. Jackson was his typical mercurial self with 15 points and several positive plays along with a bevy of poor decisions and five turnovers. His worst miscue came after he made an improbable scoop shot with just a tick left on the shot clock. That miracle gave OSU a 66-61 lead and after a flagrant foul was added on, Kaleb Wesson promptly dropped in a couple free throws.

But with a seven-point lead and full shot clock, Jackson inexplicably got out of control, tried to draw a foul and lost the ball, which Reaves turned into a left-handed throwdown on the other end.

Sure enough, Penn State worked back to grab a 70-69 lead and the natives were more than restless. But a huge pump fake and layup by Young, a few free throws, a lot of high-effort defense and a little luck – Rasir Bolton missed a point-blank layup that would have tied the game with 20 seconds left – allowed Ohio State to survive.

An NCAA tourney bid is still a LONG way away, but likely wouldn’t have happened if Patrick Chambers’ gum-on-the-shoe team had knocked off Ohio State once again.

Time for Holtmann’s nap – and then a lot more frenetic and entertaining basketball.