COLUMBUS — The hex on Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann has been broken.
He’s finally got a win over Penn State — barely.
It was certainly a bit puzzling that the one team that completely befuddled Holtmann during his breakout first season in charge of the Buckeyes was Penn State, which is never known for its work on the basketball court. But after dropping his first three matchups to the Nittany Lions and nearly letting another slip away, Holtmann and the Buckeyes broke through on Thursday night at Value City Arena with a victory they badly needed with a 74-70 escape.
How did the Buckeyes survive and what does it mean? Lettermen Row is breaking down the latest win with Three Points.
Kyle Young return gives boost to Buckeyes
For the most part, Ohio State was able to stay afloat and claim a couple key victories while Kyle Young was on the shelf with a stress fracture in his leg. But the energy he provided on defense, his work as a rebounder and even a couple flashes of productivity on offense were all welcome sights for the Buckeyes after his four-game absence. There are obviously guys with much better stats for the program, but there might not be anybody on the roster who can be relied on for consistent, hard-nosed effort. Having Young back for this critical stretch run will undoubtedly be significant for the Buckeyes if they’re going to punch another ticket to the NCAA Tournament. And his late bucket and blocked shot in the closing minutes were a clear reminder of his importance.
Ohio State must get turnovers under control
After spending most of the first half rolling and appearing to be well on the way to an important Big Ten win, Ohio State spend the last three minutes dealing with offensive brain-lock that inexplicably left it unable to solve a three-quarter-court pressure and turning the ball over on seemingly every possession. A double-digit lead vanished in a flash as the Buckeyes coughed up 12 turnovers before intermission, nearly matching their season average for entire games this season — a number which already ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten. There is plenty of blame to go around for those struggles, and it just might not be an easy fix until a true point guard shows up to run the show. But there are far more competent defensive teams ahead on the remaining schedule for Ohio State, and that kind of execution just won’t be good enough.
Luther Muhammad is bursting with confidence
The rise of Luther Muhammad has been in process now for a couple weeks. But now the freshman is starting to look like he might be the most confident player on the floor for the Buckeyes, a sparkplug who will talk trash, play suffocating defense — and wants the ball in his hands in key situations. With Kaleb Wesson again battling foul trouble down the stretch, the offense was running through Muhammad in a back-and-forth game. He delivered with key jump shots and pressurized free throws to again lead Ohio State in scoring, backing up everything Muhammad was screaming at Penn State after big plays. The future is looking even brighter for Muhammad with every passing game, and he’s already proving to be critical in the push for the Big Dance.