Ohio State had something on its side it has never had against Penn State in the Chris Holtmann era: momentum.
After allowing a quick 8-2 Nittany Lions lead, the Buckeyes ignited for a 21-1 run. For the first time in the Chris Holtmann era at Ohio State, the Buckeyes seemed to have control of Penn State.
But like any of the three matchups Ohio State fell to head coach Pat Chambers’ team this past season, including two one-score losses, the Nittany Lions came back to within striking distance.
After trading baskets for the majority of the second half, Penn State held a 70-69 lead with 1:19 left in the game.
For junior forward Andre Wesson, motivation heading into the final stretch was not a factor.
“They beat us three times last year, probably one of the reasons why we don’t have a ring right now,” Wesson said. “With that motivation coming into the game, we knew we had to get this one.”
Ohio State sophomore forward Kyle Young, who returned from his four-game absence after suffering a stress fracture in his lower right leg against Maryland, made sure that happened, securing Ohio State’s first win against Penn State in the Holtmann era 74-70 on Thursday night.
Freshman forward Jaedon LeDee passed Young the ball inside the paint. Seemingly without limitation in his first game back, the sophomore forward went up and connected on a contested layup. The Buckeyes made three of five free throw attempts to give the team its fifth conference win.
Recording six points in 25 minutes, Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said Young played with a lot of poise against the Nittany Lions, saying he played with activity and had great rebounding ability, recording six on Thursday.
“It’s who Kyle is and we missed that,” Holtmann said. “We’ve missed his experience too.”
With a three-point lead heading into the final two minutes, Penn State roared back with a mini 4-0 run, taking the one-point lead after senior guard Josh Reaves recorded a ferocious dunk off a steal.
With 28 seconds left in the clock, Penn State freshman guard Rasir Bolton had a clear path to the basket, but a rimmed-out layup secured the four-point victory for Ohio State.
Ohio State made five of its last seven shots of the game, while Penn State missed its last four shot attempts.
Holtmann said this was the kind of game he expected when his team faces Penn State, saying he would “bet money” on a last minute, one-possession battle.
But he said he saw the Buckeyes play better late than they had in many games this season.
“I think our guys showed great will, stayed with it and tried to make one more play,” Holtmann said. “I thought we played a lot smarter down the stretch than we have in some other games.”
Penn State senior guard Josh Reaves began the game with eight straight points, making 3-of-3 from the field, Ohio State scored 21 of the next 22 points scored, forcing nine missed shots in the nearly seven-minute span.
Ohio State freshman guard Luther Muhammad scored seven of the team’s 21 points during the run, giving the Buckeyes a 23-9 lead with 9:34 left in the first half.
Muhammad finished the game with a team-leading 20 points, connecting on 5-of-11 from the field.
But it was a lead that was eventually moot as Penn State worked its way back late in the first half and, other than a mini 7-0 run at the start of the final period, eventually gave the Nittany Lions the lead, as Bolton and junior forward Lamar Stevens helped them to a 12-0 run.
Wesson said the reason behind allowing the Nittany Lions to get back into the game was their full-court press, specifically on from Reaves, who Holtmann considered to be the best defender he had ever coached against.
“They are long, athletic. It’s a good press,” Wesson said. “We really didn’t walk over it too much in practice, but we still should have handled it a lot better.”
Sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson again found himself in foul trouble in the four-point win, finishing with six points and two rebounds in 19 minutes of play after fouling out with 1:45 minutes to go in the game.
With Wesson in the game, Ohio State was a team-high plus-17.
After recording six turnovers in its last win against Rutgers, Ohio State had 18 turnovers against the Nittany Lions, including 12 in the first half. Jackson led the team with five turnovers in Thursday’s four-point win.
Despite not experiencing Ohio State’s three losses to Penn State last season, Muhammad said this four-point win against the Nittany Lions is a boost of confidence moving forward.
“They definitely took us down to the wire. I think this is going to help us for the future. This is what you play the game for, being in tough games like this and high-level games and intensity up to par and everyone coming out, playing their hardest,” Muhammad said. “So it definitely put us to the test.”
But Holtmann was not looking to the future. He was focused on one thing after his first win against Penn State.
“Whew, I need a nap,” Holtmann said. “That one was a rugged Big Ten fight, that’s for sure.”
Ohio State will head to Bloomington, Indiana and take on the Hoosiers at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Updated at 11:10 p.m. with quotes from Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann, junior forward Andre Wesson and freshman guard Luther Muhammad.