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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Fall 79-75 To Ohio State

by on March 10, 2016 9:30 PM

This week Penn State entered unchartered waters, for the first time in program history playing in the second round of the Big Ten tournament thanks to a first round bye.

Some of this is the result of an expanded conference, the rest the result of a season that exceeded most reasonable expectations. 

So good timing? Perhaps. But not an unearned reward.

Regardless there was an underlying theme in the week leading up to Penn State's eventual 79-75 loss to Ohio State. Simply prove that you belong at the big kids' table.

And on Thursday night the Nittany Lions did just that. Not with a performance that was their best of the year, but one that showed all the hallmarks of why the program is getting better, and why it still has work left to do. There were mistakes that good teams don't make, runs that good teams do, and timely shots that keep things interesting down to the very end.

In the first half it was hot outside shooting that helped Penn State earn a 10-point lead with 4:20 to go in the frame. Seven shots from deep found their mark and it spread Ohio State's defense across the floor opening the lane for finishes near the basket. Brandon Taylor was especially effective early with eight early points to help the offensive balance continue.

Predictably though Ohio State didn't simply falter, the Buckeyes with NCAA tournament bubble hopes to attend to, and a run of their own cut into Penn State's somewhat surprising first half lead. The Nittany Lions' 37-34 halftime lead was the result of Ohio State's determination and shot making down the stretch as much as it was the inevitability that Penn State would cool off.

Even more predictable, Ohio State's counter punch to open the second half. The Buckeyes fighting out to an early 40-39 lead in the opening minutes of the final 20 of play. That lead would ballon to 48-39 with 16:36 to play, putting the Nittany Lions on the ropes.

A few weeks ago this all would have looked so similar. Penn State scoring just 26 first half points against the Buckeyes in Columbus and struggling to score from anywhere on the floor en route to a 66-46 loss to the Buckeyes.

But on Thursday it was just another swing of momentum in the so-called "game of runs." So as Penn State looked to prove its first round bye was the result of good play and not good fortune, that lead slowly shrank and the Nittany Lions finally retook the lead with 4:12 to go up 67-66. 

From there the game swung on every possession. Missed shots by both teams, back-to-back baskets by JaQuan Lyle putting the Buckeyes up by six with 1:50 to go at 73-67. Shep Garner's three in the dying seconds would pull the contest to a three point margin, but free throws and a four point game with eight seconds to go was just too much as Brandon Taylor heaved a half court shot at the buzzer.

On paper Brandon Taylor perhaps ends his Penn State career with a 14-point five rebound outing behind Shep Garner's 25 points and five assist night., Donovon Jack adding 18 in maybe his final night of action. The Buckeyes shot 39 free throws, making 26 while Penn State attempted just 21 and making 14.

All of those things are true, but if Thursday night proves to simply be the right to lose to Michigan State on Friday, then the bigger picture goals were likely accomplished for the Nittany Lions. Facing a first round bye and the chance to play a team that handed the Nittany Lions a 20-point loss weeks ago, Penn State had a chance to prove that it shouldn't be taken lightly.

And no matter how down this Buckeye squad might be, it's hard to argue that the Nittany Lions didn't earn their seat at the table on Thursday night.

Now the it's a matter of keeping it. And that comes down to an incoming recruiting class that has already raised expectation both inside and outside the program.

Will it make a difference?

Check back in 12 months.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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