Men’s Basketball: No. 16 Ohio State looks to get back on track against Penn State

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Ohio State huddles during the Ohio State-Northwestern game on Sunday. Ohio State won 95-87. Credit: Gabe Haferman | Assistant Photo Editor

Having lost two of its last three games, No. 16 Ohio State men’s basketball looks to get back in the win column against an emerging Penn State squad Sunday.

Coming off a difficult loss on the road to No. 13 Wisconsin Thursday, the Buckeyes (10-4, 4-2 Big Ten) kick off a three-game homestand against a Nittany Lion (8-6, 3-3 Big Ten) team that has won three of its last four games — with the lone loss to then-No. 3 Purdue Jan. 8.

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions have already played once this season, with Ohio State prevailing 76-64 in State College, Pennsylvania, Dec. 5, 2021. Graduate forward Kyle Young led the Buckeyes to the win behind 16 points on 4-for-4 shooting from 3-point range.

With the two teams meeting for the second time this season, sophomore forward Zed Key said the Nittany Lions are a much different team than when the Buckeyes played them the first time.

“They play faster, they play harder. They have some different pieces,” Key said. “They’re a really good team coming in on Sunday.”

One major change for the Nittany Lions was the integration of graduate transfer forward Greg Lee, who made his Penn State debut Dec. 11, 2021, against Michigan State, into the rotation. As Penn State endured a three-week stretch without a game, Lee has produced 6.8 points and six rebounds per game behind 42.9 percent shooting.

Lee’s impact was largely seen in Penn State’s near-upset of then-No. 3 Purdue, as he dropped a season-high 11 points on 50 percent from the field.

Ohio State assistant coach Ryan Pedon pointed to Lee’s inclusion into the Penn State rotation as something that has helped it in its recent success.

“Penn State, maybe, wasn’t the deepest team, so adding a guy that they can depend on to bring certain things to the table, he’s an older guy so I think they know what they’re getting out of him,” Pedon said. “What I see on film with him is that he’s injected some energy into them. He’s a live athlete and he’s a competitor. He plays hard.”

The addition of Lee provides the Nittany Lions’ double-digit scoring quartet with some much-needed support.

In the backcourt, senior guards Sam Sessoms and Jalen Pickett are both bucket-getters — averaging 11.9 and 13.4 points per game, respectively — but facilitate the offense at a high level as well. The guard tandem combines for 7.7 assists per game.

Pickett lit up the stat sheet in the prior meeting between Ohio State and Penn State, producing a season-high 23 points on 8-for-15 shooting. During this four-game stretch for the Nittany Lions, Pickett has averaged 17.3 points and 4.3 assists per game.

“The ball is in his hands a lot more than it was in game one,” Pedon said. “He’s a really good decision-maker. He’s an experienced guy, scored a lot of points in his college career before he got to Penn State. I like his basketball character, he’s about the right things.”

On the wing, junior forward Seth Lundy is a three-level scorer that has provided the Nittany Lions a team-best 14.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting from the field and 35.2 percent from 3-point range.

While Lundy puts pressure on opposing defenses from anywhere on the floor, senior forward John Harrar is a tough defensive assignment in the paint. Harrar averages a double-double behind 11.1 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Harrar is one of the most efficient scorers in the conference, shooting 70.1 percent from the field.

Despite having four quality scorers, the Nittany Lions’ offense ranks dead last in the Big Ten — averaging 67.2 points per game. As the Buckeyes’ defense has struggled over the past three games — allowing 80 points per game — Sunday could be an opportunity to turn things around on that end.

“We definitely have some stuff to work on defensively,” Key said. “Every day we’re working on getting our defense better and trying to stop teams from scoring because defense wins games.”

As the Buckeyes get to enjoy the comforts of the Schottenstein Center for the next week, Key said the homestand will be beneficial for an Ohio State team trying to get back to its early-season success.

“Home court advantage: It’s a real thing,” Key said. “It’s good to be home. I love playing at home in front of the fans.”

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions tip off at noon Sunday from the Schottenstein Center. The game will be televised on Big Ten Network.

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