Though pleased with the elements of efficient defense Sam Thompson brings to Ohio State’s starting lineup, head coach Thad Matta admitted Friday that he’s still waiting for the sophomore to take his offensive game to the next gear.
A little more than 24 hours later, Matta’s wish came true.
Thompson scored a game-high 16 points and converted on all but one of his seven field goal attempts, and Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith Jr. both added 11 to lift the No. 14 Buckeyes to a 65-51 win over Penn State in the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday.
Ohio State (15-4, 4-2 Big Ten) has now won each of the last 18 meetings against Penn State – including the seven in a row in State College – and the Nittany Lions (8-12, 0-7) will have to wait at least one more game before earning their first conference victory.
Jermaine Marshall led Penn State with 16 points and D.J. Newbill had 15, but no other Lion scored in double-figures as the team struggled to knock down shots, making only 17-of-47 field goal attempts (36.2 percent).
Penn State spent the entire second half trying to overcome Ohio State’s 11-point halftime lead, but the Nittany Lions never got within 10 points in the game’s final 20 minutes. The Buckeyes, however, never completely put them away.
Despite a field goal drought that last more than 11 minutes and spanned 16 possessions in the first half, Penn State didn’t find itself with a deficit that was insurmountable at halftime.
With Thomas on the bench for the final 7:56 of the first half while in foul trouble, the Buckeyes didn’t expand on the Lions’ scoring drought as much as they would’ve liked.
A layup by Newbill tied the game at 11 with 13:24 remaining in the first half, but Penn State didn’t score another field goal for the next 11:34. During that span, the Buckeyes went to work.
Thompson, who scored five of Ohio State’s first 11 points, added a breakaway dunk during the OSU run and also set up guard Shannon Scott with a wide open baseline jumper with a nifty behind the back pass to increase the Buckeyes’ lead to 17-11.
Before picking up his second foul, Thomas knocked down a jumper, then LaQuinton Ross hit a three and reserve big man Trey McDonald added a bucket to keep the run alive. An Amir Williams free throw finally gave Ohio State its largest first-half lead at 25-12 with 4:49 remaining in the period.
But when Marshall knocked down a three to get Penn State back within 10 with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the Nittany Lions put themselves in a position to work back into the game on their home floor in the second half.
“Did we want to get the lead bigger? Yeah, we wanted to,” Matta said. “But this was a great win for this basketball team from the standpoint of how we started and maintained the lead that we had.”
For much of the first half, Ohio State’s lead hovered in the area of its halftime advantage, but the Buckeyes scored on four consecutive possessions, capped by a three-point play by Thompson, to extend their lead to 43-27 with 13:34 remaining in the game.
Again, Penn State fought back by scoring on four consecutive possessions to get its deficit back to 11 at 56-45, with 4:21 remaining. The Nittany Lions cut OSU’s lead to 10 with two free throws from Marshall with 2:41 remaining, but never got closer.
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