INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Penn State’s zone defense gave Ohio State a lot more to worry about than its three-year NCAA probation.
Ron Lewis scored 17 points and the No. 7 Buckeyes, who missed 11 of their first 13 shots, needed a flurry of 3-point baskets in the second half to rally past the Nittany Lions 63-56 Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
Ohio State, the tourney’s top seed, found out shortly before the game about the sanctions, which brought an end to a lengthy NCAA investigation but will not affect their eligibility for the postseason.
“When we heard it this morning before the game, we were happy,” Lewis said. “The coach told us in the locker room when we got here that there wasn’t going to be anything in the NCAA tournament against us.
“We really didn’t focus on it,” he said of the penalties for violations that occurred under former coach Jim O’Brien, before any of the current players were on the team. “We really wanted just to keep playing hard and keep playing as a team. We knew everything was going to play out how it played out, but we weren’t going to slack because of some rule that somehow went against us.”
The victory sent the Buckeyes into Saturday’s semifinals against fifth-seeded Indiana (18-10), which beat No. 4-seed Wisconsin 61-56.
Ohio State (24-4) never led until there were less than six minutes to go, when a 3-pointer by Jamar Butler put the Buckeyes up 50-49. Ohio State had seven 3-pointers—including two by Lewis and two by Matt Sylvester— during a 28-11 run that erased a 42-30 lead by the eighth-seeded Nittany Lions (15-14).
Two free throws by Je’Kel Foster sealed the game with 24 seconds to go.
Terence Dials, the Big Ten player of the year, added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Buckeyes. Penn State was led by Jamelle Cornley, who had 18 points, and Geary Claxton and Travis Parker, who had 12 each.
“It’s kind of a relief, from the standpoint of the media,” Dials said of the NCAA ruling. “We were playing with the mind-set that we were going to the postseason anyway. That’s what we were preparing for. … I would have been really shocked if they would have said we couldn’t go (to the NCAA tournament).”
Shortly before the game, the NCAA announced Ohio State had been put on three years’ probation and had its records expunged from four NCAA basketball tournament appearances—including the 1999 Final Four. The university will have to repay almost $800,000 in tournament revenues from 1999-2002 because of the ineligibility of former player Boban Savovic.
Penn State used the same zone defense that worked Thursday in a first-round victory over Northwestern, forcing the Buckeyes to shoot from the outside.
But Ohio State missed its first six shots and 11 of its first 13 against the Lions’ zone. The Buckeyes went the first 6 1/2 minutes without a field goal and fell behind 7-0 and 13-5 before a spinning layup by J.J. Sullinger started a 10-2 run that brought them back into the game.
“We really had to step up and challenge our guys,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “In the second half, we were able to hit some shots against the zone, and that opened things up for us.”
The Buckeyes were 10-of-30 from long range, with eight of the 3-pointers in the second half.
Penn State had a 27-24 lead at halftime, and Ohio State missed its first eight shots of the second half as the Lions slowly widened their lead.
A dunk by Claxton, a basket by Cornley and a 3-pointer by Mike Walker gave Penn State its biggest lead at 42-30 before a 3-pointer by Lewis started Ohio State’s comeback.
“It looked better because the ball went into the basket,” Matta said of the difference in the second half. “They were the exact same shots. … And our defensive intensity got so much better.”
Penn State, which upset top-seeded Ohio State in the first round six years ago, was hoping to pull off another shocker.
“For 35 minutes, we were in good shape,” coach Ed DeChellis said.
“We made a very good run at this thing, but it just didn’t happen for us. … We had our opportunities but didn’t make some critical shots when we needed to.”