INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When Ohio State needed a boost Thursday night, Marc Loving and JaQuan Lyle stepped forward. They made shots. They got to the free-throw line. Eventually, they sealed the game.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When Ohio State needed a boost Thursday night, Marc Loving and JaQuan Lyle stepped forward.
They made shots. They got to the free-throw line. Eventually, they sealed the game.
Loving scored 24 points, Lyle had 22 and they teamed up to score all seven points in a late run to finally put away from Penn State 79-75 in the second round of the Big Ten tournament.
"I was trying to explain to these guys this week that if you hang onto something in this tournament, you're going home," coach Thad Matta said. "You've got to really play forward. And fortunately for us, I thought probably the last 24 minutes with a few blips, they did a pretty decent job of that."
This was not just another game for the Buckeyes (20-12). They desperately needed it to keep their NCAA tourney hopes alive, and Loving and Lyle played like it.
On a night the Buckeyes struggled from the free-throw line, going 26 of 39, Loving was 13 of 15 and made key throws during the closing minutes. He also went 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
Lyle, a freshman guard, finished 8 of 16 from the field, had 10 rebounds and five assists.
And they were good enough to give Ohio State another chance to impress the NCAA selection committee with Friday's quarterfinal game against No. 2 Michigan State. It will be the third meeting between the teams in 17 days and the Spartans won each of the first two.
"As I told these guys, we got this one out of the way, we got what we came for," Matta said.
It just wasn't easy getting there.
Ohio State had a seemingly comfortable 61-54 lead with 8:07 to go, but the Nittany Lions (16-16) used a 13-5 spurt to retake the lead at 67-66.
Loving answered by making three free throws to give the Buckeyes the lead.
Lyle followed that with back-to-back layups to make it 73-67 with 1:48 to go — just enough to keep Penn State from getting within one possession of challenging the Buckeyes.
Penn State was led by Shep Garner, who had 25 points, and Donovon Jack with 18 but still came up short.
"We lost our aggressiveness because we were in foul trouble most of the day. I mean 39 free throws says it all," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We've got to get better, we've got to get bigger, we've got to get stronger."
Loving showed the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse just how versatile he can really be. When there was a stoppage with 1:30 left because of a wet spot on the floor, Loving grabbed a towel from the bench and started cleaning it up himself. When he finished, Loving wiped his face with the same towel before tossing it aside and drawing applause from the crowd.
After Michigan beat Northwestern in overtime and Illinois fended off a late 11-0 run to upset No. 20 Iowa in the first two games, it almost happened again. Penn State led most of the first half and forced the Buckeyes to make free throws to keep a two-possession lead late in the game.
Matta extended his streak of consecutive 20-win seasons at Ohio State to 12. He's done even better than that, though. In 16 seasons as a head coach — one at Butler, three at Xavier and 12 at Ohio State — he has never won fewer than 20 games in a season.
Nittany Lions: Brandon Taylor was the only other player to reach double figures. He had 14 points. ... Coach Patrick Chambers wore sneakers with his suit. ... This was the first time in tourney history Penn State got a first-round bye. ... The Nittany Lions were averaging 9.6 3s and giving up 6.0 in their previous five games. It was more of the same Thursday. Penn State wound up 9 of 22 from beyond the arc while Ohio State was 5 of 14.
Buckeyes: Keita Bates-Diop had 14 points and six rebounds, while Trevor Thompson finished with 10 points. ... Ohio State has won at least one game in 11 of the last 13 conference tourneys. It also has won 23 of its last 30 tourney games. ... The Buckeyes had a 41-33 rebounding advantage.
Nittany Lions: Await postseason fate.
Buckeyes: Face No. 2 Michigan State in the third quarterfinal game Friday.
Follow Michael Marot on Twitter @apmarot