Rivalry games are a constant. Regardless of the trajectory of a team, players will get fired up and ready to play when they see certain teams on their schedule. The Ohio State and Penn State women’s basketball teams are no exception.
The Buckeyes beat Penn State 76-71 on Jan. 17 in overtime after coming back from down double digits.
Since then, Ohio State has gone 2-3 while the Nittany Lions have dropped three of their past four games. While the teams have faced similar struggles since their past matchup, their rivalry was the only thing that mattered Wednesday night when Ohio State (10-11, 6-6 Big Ten) beat Penn State (10-12, 3-8 Big Ten) for a second time 78-73.
Averaging more than 15 turnovers per game, ball control has been a point of emphasis for the Buckeyes as of late. With a Penn State team averaging 7.7 steals per game coming to town, the Nittany Lions stingy defense was a tough test for Ohio State.
“Penn State is good,” Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff said. “They’re talented, they’re a hard matchup because they’ve got some really fast, athletic guards. They were beating us off the dribble early, one guarding the ball and one in the gaps to kind of help each other.”
The Nittany Lions forced five turnovers in the first quarter, but a strong defensive performance gave Ohio State the 16-12 lead heading into the second quarter.
Penn State searched all night for the 3-ball in an attempt to jump ahead of the Buckeyes, but poor shooting and strong pressure from Ohio State limited the Nittany Lions to just 5-of-19 from deep, with eight of their attempts coming in the first quarter.
The Buckeyes connected on 5-of-13 of their attempts from 3.
The teams continued going back and forth in the second quarter with neither gaining more than a three-point advantage. After a missed layup by Penn State with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Buckeyes quickly made their way back down the court and freshman forward Dorka Juhász found the basket as the buzzer sounded to tie things up 29-29 at halftime.
Juhász notched a double-double, scoring 14 points and earning 11 rebounds.
“I think [Dorka] is getting back closer to 100 percent, we needed her tonight, obviously,” McGuff said. “She’s a difference maker for us and it’s great to see her play so well.”
Coming out of the locker room, the Buckeyes went on a quick 6-0 run to take the lead again 35-29, though it didn’t last as the Nittany Lions responded with a 6-2 run of their own to make it a two-point game.
The Buckeyes later took a 49-39 lead with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter, but Penn State refused to go away, finishing the quarter on a 12-2 run to tie things up heading into the fourth.
Ohio State made its living at the free throw line on Wednesday, connecting on 25-of-32 attempts at the charity stripe and hitting 18-of-22 in the fourth quarter. The first eight points for the Buckeyes in the fourth quarter came from the free throw line, which wasn’t broken until a layup from redshirt senior guard Carmen Grande with 5:26 remaining.
Adding 14 points and four assists, Grande said she knew fouls and free throws would be an important part of the game for the Buckeyes.
“We were in the bonus early in the fourth quarter, so it was either get some layups or some free throws and just rack up points because we were having some trouble moving,” Grande said.
The back and forth continued late into the fourth quarter, as neither team was able to put the other away. Penn State took a three-point lead, its largest of the game, with 3:30 remaining, but Ohio State quickly responded with a 3-pointer by Grande to tie things up.
Freshman guard Janai Crooms stole the ball by deflecting a Penn State pass and Grande quickly found the basket at the other end to give Ohio State a 72-68 lead, but Penn State junior guard Jaida Travascio-Green responded with a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game.
After a miss by Grande on the ensuing possession, Penn State junior guard Siyeh Frazier hit a jumper to take 73-72 with just 30 seconds remaining. Despite the earlier miss in crunch time, Grande came back and scored on a layup to give Ohio State the 74-73 lead.
Penn State missed on its possession and the ball went out, and after a review possession was given to Ohio State and the Nittany Lions were forced to foul. Santoro was fouled twice in the final seconds and made all four free throws to make the final 78-73.
Santoro finished with 20 points on 4-of-8 shooting, going 11-of-13 from the free throw line.
Redshirt senior Makayla Waterman, who finished with a career-high 19 points and seven rebounds on 4-of-6 shooting, knocking down 10 of her 14 free throw attempts, said the team knew it would come down to its defense.
“We knew that eventually it was going to come down to getting a couple stops in a row regardless if we’re scoring or not,” she said. “I put that in my mind and I think our whole team did, and we ended up getting a lot of good team stops at the end.
The Buckeyes shot 49 percent from the field and tied a season high in points scored with 78. Four players reached double digits.
Ohio State will stay home to take on Iowa at 4 p.m on Sunday.