If any team was Ohio State’s kryptonite a season ago, it was Penn State.
Of the Buckeyes’ eight losses before the NCAA Tournament, three came against the Nittany Lions. One of those losses knocked Ohio State out of the Big Ten tournament, while another was a 23-point defeat.
Redshirt senior guard Keyshawn Woods was not yet on the team for Ohio State’s three losses, but that doesn’t mean he is unaware of them.
“It’s been mentioned,” Woods said. “We know it’s important for the guys that played last year to make sure we all come out and play hard so we can get this win because of how they lost three times last year.”
For the Buckeyes to earn their first win against the Nittany Lions in the Chris Holtmann era, they will have to beat a team that has lost 10 of its first 11 games in the Big Ten.
Ohio State (14-7, 4-6 Big Ten)
G — C.J. Jackson — Senior, 12.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.7 apg
G — Luther Muhammad — Freshman, 9.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
G — Musa Jallow — Sophomore, 3.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.3 apg
F — Andre Wesson — Junior, 8.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.6 apg
F — Kaleb Wesson — Senior, 15.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.8 apg
Penn State (8-14, 1-10 Big Ten)
G — Josh Reaves — Senior, 9.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.4 apg
G — Myles Dread — Freshman, 8.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.3 apg
G — Jamari Wheeler — Sophomore, 3.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.0 apg
F — Lamar Stevens — Junior, 18.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.2 apg
F — Mike Watkins — Redshirt junior, 8.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 0.5 apg
Penn State comes in with the worst record in the conference, but earned a win in its past matchup — a 59-25 victory on the road against Northwestern.
Though the Nittany Lions have a .363 win percentage, they are No. 64 in the KenPom.com rankings due to how they lose games.
Ten of Penn State’s 14 losses have been by single digits, and three of the four double-digit defeats have been to ranked opponents.
Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann is coming into the matchup expecting the same level of team that defeated his group on a trio of occasions a season ago.
“We’re preparing for a Penn State team playing really, really well here, they play exceptionally hard, talented group,” Holtmann said. “I know what they’re capable of, and they’ve clearly shown that time and time again.”
Junior forward Lamar Stevens is the major contributor for the Nittany Lions, averaging 18.9 points per game, fourth-most of any player in the Big Ten, to go along with 7.7 rebounds per game.
Stevens averaged 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in the three games against Ohio State last season.
“I just think he’s that versatile kind of forward who can score it at all three levels, he can post you, he can certainly make mid-range, he can make 3s, he drives it, does a great job getting to the foul line,” Holtmann said. “I think what makes him such a good player is his impact on the other end as well. He is really a tough kid.”
Holtmann said he’s heard Stevens and senior guard Josh Reaves have the potential to move to the NBA following this season.
Reaves is averaging 9.7 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game and has a team-leading 56 steals, 31 more than any player on the Nittany Lions.
The Buckeyes will likely remain without sophomore forward Kyle Young, but Holtmann said he is now day-to-day, and will be assessed each game moving forward.
Ohio State, a team that has won two of its past three after losing five straight, has an opportunity to end another losing streak, this time against a conference opponent.
Penn State is also trying to move forward after dropping its first 10 conference games, and Woods said the win against Northwestern could be the spark the Nittany Lions need to continue the momentum.
“Penn State plays really, really hard. They’ve been in pretty much every game that they’ve been in in the Big Ten, so one win like that can motivate their team to just go on a run in February,” Woods said. “We know that, and we gotta be prepared tomorrow for the game.”
Ohio State takes on Penn State at home at 7 p.m. on Thursday.