STATE COLLEGE, Pa.: With one shot, No. 22 Ohio State had a chance to wash away a game full of missteps and prevent Penn State from pulling off yet another upset of the Buckeyes.
Aaron Craft drew the defense to him and passed to a wide-open Lenzelle Smith Jr., but his 3-pointer with just seconds left drew iron. Penn State grabbed the rebound, and the win, 65-63 on Thursday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“Aaron made a great read. It was a wide-open shot,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “Small things win you games and small things lose you games. Tonight the little things lost us the game. We had a chance in the first half to open it up. We missed free throws and we missed point-blank looks at the basket. To Penn State’s credit, they kept fighting. They kept clawing.”
D.J. Newbill scored 23 points, Tim Frazier added 16 and Penn State held off a late rally by the Buckeyes.
Nittany Lions coach Patrick Chambers didn’t think it was the matchup or the fact that it was Senior Night that allowed his team to beat Ohio State again.
No, it was something more basic.
“I think we were mad,” he said, emphasizing that Penn State had been thumped by Iowa and Nebraska in its previous two games. “It just happened to be Ohio State tonight. We came out and played desperate and with a sense of urgency. And we played angry.”
The Buckeyes (22-7, 9-7 Big Ten) had a chance to win at the end. Coming out of a timeout with 6.8 seconds left, Smith’s 3-pointer rimmed out. The Nittany Lions (14-14, 5-10) grabbed the rebound and time expired.
Ohio State was led by LaQuinton Ross, who scored 19 points. Craft, plagued by foul trouble, added 10.
“It was one of those games where two guys pound the ball off the backboard and it bounces out and they make a 3 on us,” Matta said. “Little things like that is kind of the way the game went.”
Nittany Lions forward Donovan Jack made a turnaround jumper, was fouled and hit the free throw to give Penn State a 60-55 lead with 1:59 to go.
Ross and Craft each made a pair of free throws, sandwiched around two by Frazier, to pull the Buckeyes to 62-59 with just more than a minute to go.
Frazier pushed Penn State’s lead to five with 39.4 seconds left with a pair of free throws.
After Ross made two more free throws, Shannon Scott stole the inbounds pass and passed to Trey McDonald for a layup that cut it to 64-63.
Penn State missed two free throws on the ensuing possession, but Smith’s shot caromed off the rim and over the backboard, giving the Nittany Lions the ball back with under 10 seconds left.
Frazier was fouled and made one of two at the line, setting up Smith’s last-second attempt from 3-point range.
“When we executed what we were supposed to do, it was amazing what happened. We didn’t have the flow that we normally do,” Matta said. “That was the difference. We talked about it and talked about it. We couldn’t get it to where we needed it.”
Frazier, a senior point guard, was recognized before the game as part of Senior Night festivities. He is one of 10 finalists for the Senior CLASS Award, given annually to a student-athlete with notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition. He acknowledged that his uneven play early was due to the emotions and nerves of the night.
“It was very emotional. I was basically trying to hold back tears in the beginning. Obviously you tell at the beginning of the game I had so many emotions running through me. Turnovers left and right. Air balls,” he said.
Chambers was happy to see a player who has meant so much to the program get a win on his special night.
“He’s an amazing kid. A man now. He’s a man,” Chambers said. “You can’t blame the guy for being jacked up. I was happy to see us get a win for him.”