No one expected the Ohio State men’s basketball team to defeat then-No. 16 Wisconsin on Thursday night. All the more reason fans don’t know what to expect come Tuesday night at Penn State.
One of the most notable struggles for the Buckeyes (16-13, 6-10 Big Ten) this season is stringing together two consecutive performances that end in victories. OSU hasn’t won two in a row since Feb. 4 and Feb. 8 when it won at Michigan, then nearly suffered a catastrophic defeat to Rutgers.
OSU’s win over Michigan was equally surprising to Thursday’s win over Wisconsin considering how poorly the Buckeyes have performed on the road this year, especially in conference. Just four days following the surprising win in Ann Arbor, Michigan, OSU was trailing in the later stages of the second half against last-place Rutgers at home.
OSU is currently tied for 10th in the Big Ten with two games left against two teams that are also 6-10 in conference — Penn State and Indiana. To avoid another setback in the conference standings, the Buckeyes will need to put together two cohesive games for the first time all season.
“I think we’ll find out tomorrow night,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “It’s a different opponent. It’s a completely different style of play. Matchups are not even close to what they were from Thursday night’s game. But hopefully we’ve got a good way about us going into the game.”
A bid to the NCAA Tournament is likely out of the picture for the Buckeyes without a miraculous run to the Big Ten tournament title in Washington D.C. However, that goal — as far reaching as it might be — is all the more attainable without having to play on the first day of the tournament.
The bottom-four seeded teams in the Big Ten play on the tournament’s opening day on March 8. OSU can nearly guarantee themselves the extra day off with wins over Penn State and Indiana in the final two games of the season. A loss in either one and the Buckeyes are likely playing on Wednesday.
“I mean it would just help our bodies,” sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle said. “You got guys playing, 28 to 34 minutes per game. Hopefully, we can get these two and hopefully everything works in our favor.”
A big part of Thursday’s victory was the play of Lyle and sophomore guard C.J. Jackson who both played point guard and scored 17 and 18 points, respectively. Jackson hit a career-high four 3s and Lyle was 10 for 10 from the free-throw line.
Lyle has been one of several OSU players whose nightly production has been difficult to predict. Since moving to the bench following an ankle injury before the Michigan game, Lyle said he’s able to see how other teams operate on defense, which helps his game.
When Jackson is playing at his best, similar to as he did in Thursday’s game, the guard duo can be difficult to stop. However, neither of them has pieced together consecutive consistent performances.
“For me and C.J., just getting the ball and pushing (is important),” Lyle said. “I think we’re at our best in transition and on dribble drives, and with him spotting up and hitting shots and me spotting up and hitting shots, I think that’s big for us.”
Penn State hosts its own dynamic guard duo with junior Shep Garner and freshman Tony Carr who leads the team with 13.2 points per game. Garner averages 11.9 and is one of four guys that average double figures.
Penn State is also fighting to stay above the Wednesday cut line of the Big Ten tournament with games against OSU and at Iowa.
OSU hasn’t had much leeway since it began a 0-4 slide to start the conference slate, and a big reason for that was inconsistency from the team’s production. Now riding with momentum following the team’s first win over a ranked opponent, that consistency will need to show.
“I think that it’s (a) now-or-never type of mindset,” Matta said. “Just in terms of how we have to play and what we have to do.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.