Men’s Basketball: Ohio State defeats Penn State 76-64 in Big Ten opener in Wheeler’s return

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Ohio State graduate guard Jamari Wheeler (55) dribbles the ball during the Ohio State-Indianapolis exhibition game Nov. 1. Ohio State won 82-46. Photo Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

The Buckeyes opened Big Ten play against Penn State with a win, and they have now won five of the last six against the Nittany Lions.

Ohio State (6-2, 1-0 Big Ten) staved off a fierce second-half comeback against Penn State (4-4, 0-1 Big Ten), winning 76-64 Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pennsylvania, behind a balanced attack from graduate guard Jamari Wheeler.

Ohio State looked like it was not experiencing any hangover from its 71-66 upset over No. 1 Duke Tuesday, jumping out to an early 5-0 lead on the Nittany Lions in the first minute of the game.

Penn State responded with a fierce 12-0 run thanks in large part to junior forward Seth Lundy making four of the Nittany Lions’ five-consecutive field goals. Lundy jumped out to a quick 5-for-6 from the field to nab 11 points in the first half, but finished without a field goal the rest of the way.

After Lundy drove along the baseline past Ohio State junior forward E.J. Liddell and freshman guard Malaki Branham, head coach Chris Holtmann called a timeout with 16:24 left in the first half.

The Buckeyes responded with 22 of the game’s next 29 points, heating up from 3 and knocking down six shots from downtown. Ohio State finished 7-for-16 from beyond the arc in the first half and 12-for-27 for the game.

Wheeler — who made his return to the Bryce Jordan Center after transferring from Penn State to Ohio State in the offseason — came to play Sunday, despite getting boos from the Nittany Lion faithful every time he touched the ball.

The Live Oak, Florida, native showed more involvement in the Buckeyes’ offense, driving along the left block for Ohio State’s second basket of the game, having some words for the Penn State crowd as he ran back on defense.

Wheeler finished tied a season high with nine points, adding five rebounds and tied a career high with nine assists, pacing Ohio State’s guard play — which showed significant improvement against the Nittany Lions.

Buckeye guards outscored their bigs 40-36, but graduate forward Kyle Young showed out with 16 points. He was a stretch four for Ohio State, tying a career high with four made 3s.

Liddell was not the offensive stalwart he has been for the Buckeyes in the early going, getting limited to just 14 points — his second-lowest mark of the season. His first points came on a pair of free throws with 7:00 to go in the first half, closing out the opening frame by grabbing his own blocked miss to lay it in as time expired and extend Ohio State’s lead to 41-30 at the break.

In the second half, the Buckeyes jumped out to a 18-point lead after a Young 3 — their largest of the game — before Penn State started to climb back into it.

For a 10-minute stretch starting at 14 minutes to go in the second half, the Nittany Lions clawed to within single digits, riding a 16-7 run.

Redshirt senior forward John Harrar came alive in the second half, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the second half, finishing with his fourth double-double of 2021.

Harrar had help from senior guard Jalen Pickett who finished with 23 points on 8-for-14 from the floor, adding five points at the charity stripe.

With the smallest Penn State deficit down to seven after a jumper by redshirt senior guard Jaheam Cornwall, Ohio State went back to what it relied on early on: the 3.

Freshman guard Meechie Johnson Jr. and senior forward Justin Ahrens both drained critical 3-pointers down the stretch to put the game on ice.

The Buckeyes return to the Schottenstein Center Wednesday to take on Towson. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. as the game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

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