Two tired but happy teams will meet Saturday afternoon as No. 6 Ohio State hosts Penn State in the teams’ respective Big Ten season opener in Columbus, Ohio.
The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions participated in some late-night hoops on Wednesday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which was won by their conference. Penn State (7-1) posted a 76-54 home win over Wake Forest, and Ohio State (8-0) cruised to a 74-59 victory over No. 7 North Carolina.
“Their team was better than our team,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “Their coach was a lot better than our coach.”
The Buckeyes are off to their best start since winning their first 15 games in 2013-14.
“We came out, had a chip on our shoulder as we always do, and we came out and fought, fought hard,” Ohio State guard Duane Washington Jr. said.
The Buckeyes are doing it with defense. They are ranked second nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency by allowing 83.1 points per 100 possessions.
“Our coaches seem like they’re ready for anything,” Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson said. “They talk about preparation and things that go into the next game. They prepare us at a different level.
“They don’t just throw all their fish in one barrel, so come game time, something shuts down, now we make a huge adjustment.”
With North Carolina shooting 27.4 percent from the floor, the Buckeyes have held all eight opponents to 38.0 percent shooting or worse and have not allowed more than 57 points in a game.
Defense is the hallmark for Penn State as well, with Wake Forest making 29.3 percent of its field goals and committing 20 turnovers.
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers singled out Jamari Wheeler and Mike Watkins for leading the team.
“It starts with Jamari Wheeler,” Chambers said. “He’s the little engine that could. He gets everything going. He really harasses the point guard, and that filters through because it bookends.
“You’ve got Jamari out front, and you’ve got Mike protecting the paint. There’s so much synergy out there, especially with that first group.
“You get stops, and that produces points. I thought our defense set the tone for this game. We defended. We rebounded. We really challenged our team.”
Watkins grabbed his 800th career rebound during the game, and Chambers had a bit of advice for him during a timeout.
“I said now we want 900. Don’t be happy with 800,” Chambers joked.
Ohio State defeated then-No. 10 Villanova 76-51 on Nov. 13, but Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann wants to avoid a slip-up against the unranked Nittany Lions.
“(They’re) a bonafide NCAA Tournament team,” Holtmann said of Penn State. “I think a top-half team in the Big Ten. Older guys. They’ve got some transfers. Really tough. It’s as hard a week as you could have, but I’m excited for us to learn about each other.”
–Field Level Media