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Men’s Basketball: No. 13 Ohio State draws familiar foe in Penn State for opening round of Big Ten tournament

Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann on the sidelines during action against Penn State on Feb. 15, 2018, at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pennsylvania. The Buckeyes lost, 79-56. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

If there was any team the second-seeded Ohio State men’s basketball team didn’t want to face in its first game of the Big Ten tournament, it might be Penn State. The Nittany Lions handed them two of the Buckeyes’ three conference losses during the regular season.

After a back-and-forth game, Penn State sophomore guard Tony Carr finished with 25 points and hit two 3s in the final minutes to lead Penn State to a 65-57 win against Northwestern and continue its run in the Big Ten Tournament. With that second-round win, Penn State earned the opportunity to face the Buckeyes for a third time, this time at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Madison Square Garden.

Projected Starters

Penn State

G­­— Tony Carr— Sophomore, 6-foot-5, 204 lbs, 19.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.8 apg

G— Shep Garner— Senior, 6-foot-2, 196 lbs, 10.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.3 apg

G — Josh Reaves— Junior, 6-foot-4, 210 lbs, 10.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.3 apg

F— John Harrar —Freshman, 6-foot-9, 243 lbs, 0.9 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 0.0 apg

F— Lamar Stevens— Sophomore, 6-foot-8, 226 lbs, 15.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.8 apg

Ohio State

G— C.J. Jackson — Junior, 6-foot-1, 175 lbs, 12.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.8 apg

G —Kam Williams —Redshirt senior, 6-foot-2, 185 lbs, 8.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.6 apg

F— Keita Bates-Diop — Redshirt junior, 6-foot-7, 235 lbs, 19.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.7 apg

F—Jae’Sean Tate — Senior, 6-foot-4, 230 lbs, 12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.0 apg

C— Kaleb Wesson — Freshman, 6-foot-9, 270 lbs, 11.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.0 apg

Scouting Penn State

The losses to Penn State have not gone out of the minds of the Buckeyes.

Ohio State lost to Penn State at home by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Carr that prevented the game from going into overtime.

In the second matchup at State College, Pennsylvania, Penn State led by as much as 30 points and at home, the Nittany Lions proceeded to win that game 79-56.

When asked if they would like another shot at Penn State, the Buckeyes said they were up for the challenge.

“I mean, as competitors, you know you always want to play the team that beat you,” junior guard C.J. Jackson said.

But this third matchup presents challenges for how the Buckeyes plan on preparing for a team that has beaten them in every matchup so far and already seem to be a tough matchup for them.

So far this season, the Buckeyes have struggled against good guards. Carr leads the conference in scoring at 19.9 points per game. Carr scored 28 points against the Buckeyes in the first matchup and 30 in the second.

Senior guard Shep Garner also poses a problem from behind the arc. Garner shot for a combined 8-for-12 from 3 and scored 27 points on the Buckeyes defense between the two games.

“It’s a tough balance because you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “We’ve had a very successful year but you’re also looking at hey there’s some things we can do that we didn’t, as coaches, maybe didn’t do a good enough job in those two games. We’re searching for that.”

Holtmann made it clear all season the Nittany Lions present significant matchup issues for the Buckeyes. He added there’s a chance Penn State, despite the 9-9 regular-season conference record, could be one of the best teams in the league.

“They’re very talented. I had a guy tell me this week that he thought they were the most talented team in the league next to Michigan State,” Holtmann said. “I just think we’re going to have to try to dig in and as coaches look at some things that we need to do better to put our guys in better position and we have to play harder, certainly harder than what we did at their place and then at our place as well.”

Mike Watkins injury

Freshman forward John Harrar is expected to start again for Penn State in place of redshirt sophomore center Mike Watkins.

Watkins suffered a knee injury against Michigan and missed Penn State’s final regular season game against Nebraska and its first tournament game against Northwestern on Thursday. He is not expected to participate for the entirety of Penn State’s run at the tournament. Watkins averaged 12.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 0.7 apg for the Nittany Lions.

Against Northwestern, Harrar played just six minutes and totaled no points and three rebounds.

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