Penn State used much-needed improvements in key areas to stay close with No. 14 Ohio State, but some familiar nemeses eventually did the Nittany Lions in, in a 65-51 loss to the Buckeyes on Coaches versus Cancer Band Together Day on Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill led the way with 16 and 15 points, respectively, but as has been the case in every Big Ten game this season they needed a little more help.
“Jermaine and D.J. are doing their part,” said Penn State coach Patrick Chambers. “We need that third and fourth guy to step up.”
In the Nittany Lions’ eight conference games this season they have not had three players score in double figures.
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The team shot just 29 percent in the first half, but netted 43 in the second.
Ohio State (15-4, 5-2 Big Ten) had three players with 10 or more points. Sam Thompson went 6-for-7 from the field and didn’t miss a shot until less than three minutes remaining.
“Sam was tremendous,” said Buckeyes coach Thad Matta. “I challenged Sam to play his best basketball. He was instrumental to our success today.”
The Buckeyes needed Thompson’s tallies because the Big Ten’s leading scorer, Deshaun Thomas, had just 11 points on 4 of 13 shooting. Lenzelle Smith Jr. had 11 points on just four shots (7-for-8 from the foul line) and added eight rebounds.
The Buckeyes’ bench outscored the Nittany Lions 17-7.
Despite lacking a third scorer, Penn State was able to keep itself in the game by taking care of the ball. After a 16-turnover performance at No. 7 Indiana, they committed just four turnovers against the Buckeyes.
“After the Indiana game coach really preached you have to take care of the ball,” Newbill said. “So this game we focused on making smarter passes, simple passes, simple plays.”
Matched against Aaron Craft — considered one of the best defensive point guards in the country by many — Newbill did his part by accruing just one turnover and dealing six assists (one short of a career high).
The two weren’t matched every possession, but when they were Newbill maneuvered past Craft adroitly with a series of crossovers and foot feints.
However, the Ohio State junior held his own with seven points (3 of 9), six rebounds, five assists and just one turnover.
Needing a third scorer isn’t knew for the Nittany Lions, but continuing to play hard despite missing open shots is.
Chambers has been after his guys all season about persevering though droughts.
Freshman Brandon Taylor continues to be cold from the perimeter (1-of-8), but Chambers said he doesn’t want him to lose confidence. To his credit Taylor continued to fire away.
Sasa Borovnjak scored nine points; Nick Colella was next highest with four. Ross Travis did not score.
“Usually when you miss shots … you come down and put your head down and have bad body language and don’t defend the next possession. I feel like we didn’t do that.”
Offense in the first half ground to a halt as Chambers’ group went 11 minutes without a field goal, helping the Buckeyes go on a 14-1 run. Penn State went into the half down 29-18.
Chambers said he was proud of his team for continuing to compete and was pleased they held Thomas to just 11 points.
Penn State blocked seven shots for the second straight game. Jon Graham and Marshall each had two. They also forced the Buckeyes into eight turnovers.
In the second half, the Lions rallied from a 17-point deficit with 6:05 remaining, but in the end missed free throws and poor shooting quashed some of the enthusiasm of the estimated 11,212 in attendance.
“When you get open shots you have to shoot with confidence. You have to knock them down,” Chambers said. “We have to share the ball … and have to make free throws too. If you’re going to try and upset a team like Ohio State you cant go 13-22.”
Penn State shot just 13-of-22 from the line in the game a place that also hurt them against Nebraska. Conversely, Ohio State went 19 of 23.
Penn State tried to build some momentum in the second half with a 9-3 run that cut the OSU lead to 58-47 with 4:08 remaining in the game.
The crowd appeared ready to erupt as a Newbill layup, which could have dropped the deficit below 10, teased the rim but fell away. The Lions wouldn’t threaten again.
Despite the inopportune cold streaks, Chambers was optimistic about his team’s play.
“I feel like we’re close,” he said. “I felt like we shared the ball and got really good shots but for whatever reason they didn’t fall. I feel like we’re close if we can just get a third scorer …we’re close.”
D.J. Newbill’s mother — Tawanda Roach — passed away in September just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. The Coaches versus Cancer aspect of the game was special to her son, win or lose.
“It’s a great privilege,” Newbill said. “I’m just happy I can be apart of something like this. At the end of the day it’s not about the win or the loss it’s about something more important than that.
“I hope we were able to raise a lot of money and best of luck to all the families who are going through tough times right now.”