Despite being at opposite ends of the Big Ten standings nearly all season, Ohio State and Penn State played a down-to-the-wire game last week.
Now, with the second-ranked Buckeyes on the verge of a huge showdown with the No. 1 team in the country, the Nittany Lions are hoping to catch them off-guard again as the teams meet in Columbus on Wednesday.
Ohio State (24-3, 12-1) won 64-62 at Penn State last Wednesday, but blew a 24-point second-half lead before hanging on for its eighth straight victory over the Nittany Lions (10-15, 1-11). Mike Walker missed a desperation 3-point attempt at the buzzer for Penn State, which has not defeated the Buckeyes since a 64-47 home win on Jan. 10, 2004.
The Nittany Lions have lost their four games at Ohio State, dating to a 78-75 victory on Jan. 10, 2001. They have dropped 11 straight overall and are in last place in the Big Ten.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has not lost since a 72-69 defeat at Wisconsin on Jan. 9. The Buckeyes will get another shot at the Badgers, who took over at No. 1 in this week’s poll, on Sunday in Columbus.
Those teams are currently tied for first place in the Big Ten, but Ohio State coach Thad Matta won’t let his team look ahead to facing Wisconsin.
“Our focus right now is to continue to improve as a team and prepare for our game with Penn State,” he said.
Ohio State’s only other losses this season came at North Carolina on Nov. 29 and at Florida on Dec. 23.
The Buckeyes are coming off Sunday’s 85-67 win at Minnesota. They have won 10 straight Big Ten games, their longest such streak since winning 10 consecutive conference games in 1971.
A victory over the Nittany Lions would give Ohio State its longest Big Ten winning streak since a 12-game run in 1962.
Freshman Greg Oden, who leads the team with 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, had 19 points, nine boards and two blocks against the Gophers. After then-No. 1 Florida lost at Vanderbilt on Saturday, some thought the Buckeyes might be in line for their first No. 1 ranking since 1962.
Instead, Ohio State remained the second-ranked team in the poll.
“The polls are obviously for the fans,” Matta said. “It all comes down to it being good for people to talk about at the coffee table. We have to go out and play.
“We have a great challenge Wednesday against Penn State. They gave us all we could handle at their place.”
The Nittany Lions lost 75-49 to the Badgers on Saturday and have not won since an 83-57 home victory over Northwestern on Jan. 3. The loss was their 10th straight on the road dating to last season.
Geary Claxton, who leads the Nittany Lions with 16.4 points per game, had 15 points and Jamelle Cornley added 12 on Saturday.
Penn State is the only team over the past decade to play three straight games against opponents ranked in the top three, and the school’s official Web site says no Big Ten team has ever done it.