STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP)—Ohio State just couldn’t shake Penn State, even with all the bad shots and poor passes by the Nittany Lions in the first 20 minutes.
Je’Kel Foster erased any doubts about which team was better when he returned to the floor after halftime.
Foster scored 14 points, including a layup off a steal to open the second half, as the 19th-ranked Buckeyes (14-2, 4-2 Big Ten) took advantage of Penn State turnovers for a 75-64 win on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions (10-6, 2-3) hung close in a first half marked by sloppy plan on both ends of the court and trailed 32-27 at the half. Foster’s steal and layup set the tone after halftime.
Buckeyes coach Thad Matta, flush with anger at times in the first half, said he didn’t say anything special to his team at halftime.
“We were trying to get them up and get them playing hard,” Matta said. “Trying to generate some offense and good shots.”
Easy shots, too.
Ron Lewis followed Foster’s steal with two free throws after stealing a poor pass by Jamelle Cornley, then Jamar Butler hit another layup after stealing a pass by Ben Luber to give Ohio State a 38-27 lead less than 2 minutes into the second half.
The run quieted what had been Penn State’s loudest crowd of the season. A layup by Cornley got Penn State within 69-62 with 1 minute left, but Butler and J.J. Sullinger hit free throws to help extend the lead.
“There’s no defense for turnovers in the backcourt that lead to easy baskets,” Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said.
Lewis led Ohio State with 15 points and Butler added 12 for Ohio State, which got a brief scare in the first half when leading scorer Terence Dials went down with what looked like a right leg injury. Dials returned later in the half.
Cornley had 14 points and eight rebounds, while Geary Claxton and Travis Parker each scored 13 points to lead Penn State. The Lions played more competitively than in their last meeting against Ohio State—a 104-69 win by the Buckeyes on Jan. 5 in Columbus.
On Saturday, Penn State rallied each time Ohio State threatened to pull away in the first half, in large part because of rebounding. The Nittany Lions had 23 of their 28 rebounds before halftime.
The scrappy play of Penn State’s undersized forwards, especially the 6-foot-6 Cornley and 6-foot-5 Claxton, impressed fans after they hustled on the offensive glass.
“Defensively, we did a good job in the first half, but the rebounds and putbacks killed us,” Matta said.
A layup by Butler after a backcourt steal and a basket by Dials gave Ohio State an 18-13 lead midway through the first half.
But Penn State capitalized after the Buckeyes were whistled for offensive fouls on their next couple of possessions, and the Lions tied the game at 18 after Mike Walker’s 3-pointer from the left wing.
Claxton’s tip-in of a lay-up attempt by Milos Bogetic gave Penn State the lead, 26-25, with about 3 minutes left before halftime.
Ohio State would never trail again.
“It took a lot out of us,” said Penn State guard David Jackson, who had 12 points. “It takes a lot energy just to fight back.”
Normally a reserve, Lewis started because forward Matt Sylvester was hampered by back spasms. Sylvester still scored 12 points, all in the second half, on 5-of-7 shooting.
“The back was good on offense, but it killed him on defense,” Matta joked about Sylvester.