The Penn State men’s volleyball team was riding a good wave at the end of the fourth set.
The wave turned Ohio State’s direction in the fifth.
The No. 4 Buckeyes were a little too strong both offensively and defensively Saturday night at Rec Hall and edged the No. 6 Nittany Lions 30-28, 22-25, 25-19, 21-25, 15-6, handing Penn State its fourth straight loss.
“(The match) kind of pointed out the last three weeks of our season,” Nittany Lion coach Mark Pavlik said, “in one match, there were stretches where we played some very good volleyball and there were stretches where it just got away from us.”
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Miles Johnson’s 23 kills on .476 hitting paced the Buckeyes (18-3), with Nicolas Szerszen adding 16 kills and 11 kills. Gabriel Domecus also had 11 digs and Alex Judkins had 10 digs and three aces. Christy Blough gave out 50 assists and Blake Leeson had four blocks.
“I feel like every time we play them at home, it always ends up being a match like that,” said senior middle blocker Matt Seifert, who had eight kills on .667 hitting with four blocks. “It’s back and fourth and it’s a fight and it’s a battle.”
Chris Nugent’s 16 kills and three aces, Spencer Sauter’s 13 kills and Andrew Roberts’ 11 kills paced the Nittany Lions (12-6). Taylor Hammond posted 47 assists, and Aiden Albrecht also delivered three aces.
The match followed Penn State getting surprised by St. Francis on Friday night, falling for the first time ever to the Red Flash.
Penn State got into a hole early in the fifth set, and it kept getting deeper no matter how hard the team was digging. Back-to-back Alex Judkins aces highlighted a 6-1 Buckeye run that put the set, and the match, out of reach, and the 15th Nittany Lion service error of the night ended the match.
“They served tough on us,’ Seifert said. “Just some uncharacteristic errors from us late in the game. A 15-point game is kind of like a crap shoot. If you get to eight first you have the momentum, it’s hard to keep up.”
“You’ve got to be prepared to compete all the way through a Game 5,” Pavlik added. “No matter what it looks like, serving, again, is something that can put you on a roll.”
The first set was a marathon. It featured 17 ties and seven lead changes, and the Buckeyes had five set points denied before on the sixth when Szerszen and Leeson had back-to-back kills.
The teams traded the next two sets before the Nittany Lions went on a big run in the fourth, rattling off 9 of 11 points to get ahead 23-17. Roberts delivered an ace during a five-point service run.
“That is huge to have in a match,” Sauter said. “That is by far our longest serving run. It’s a run like that that really makes you believe, ‘All right, this is ours, let’s go get it.’”
When Seifert blasted the ball into the floor pouncing on a Buckeye overpass to force the fifth, it appeared Penn State had seized the momentum.
“It’s always hard going to five (sets),” the Buckeyes’ Johnson said. “We would have liked to end it in four but it was just good we got an early lead in the fifth so we could play more comfortable.”
The contest is the eighth of an 11-match home stretch. The hosting duties continue next week with three more ranked teams hitting the Rec Hall floor, with No. 13 UC-Irvine visiting on Monday, No. 14 Lewis in town Friday and No. 12 Loyola-Chicago on hand Saturday.
“The next three matches give us an opportunity to play some great competition,” Pavlik said. “To figure out that we’re going to be under some great competitive pressure. How do we take whatever pressure we feel ourselves now, and convert that into something that we can embrace and really challenge.”
It was an important win for the Buckeyes, who hope to return to Rec Hall in May for the national championships.
“That’s a huge confidence-booster,” Johnson said. “Especially a game that goes five sets and we end up winning by a (big margin) in the fifth. It’s still a long way till then when we come back here, but it’s huge to be able to be confident coming back here.”