Nittany Lions Face off Against Bitter Rivals as Big Ten Gauntlet Continues

Story posted January 5, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Jack McCune

After a week off from play, Penn State (3-4, 0-3) will seek its first conference win of the season against familiar foe Ohio State (8-3, 3-3) Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Columbus. Despite the postponed matchup scheduled for Sunday against Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions are hopeful to resume their season at Value City Arena.

The Buckeyes fell out of the AP Top 25 for the first time this season on Tuesday after their blowout loss to Minnesota over the weekend. They’re a well-rounded team with good numbers in many Big Ten team categories, but they have two distinct weaknesses: height and three-point shooting.

Despite having a deep roster with nine active players, not a single one stands taller than 6-foot-8. Penn State senior big John Harrar, who recorded nine points and 10 boards in their overtime loss to Indiana last Wednesday, could use this to his advantage. Harrar would be the tallest man on the floor at 6-foot-9.

Shooting issues from beyond the arc have disrupted Ohio State’s rhythm. Leading scorer Duane Washington Jr. is the only starter with a three-point percentage over 24%. And while Penn State has made 71 3s in just seven games played, head coach Chris Holtmann’s Buckeyes have made 78 in 11 games.

A team that doesn’t shoot the ball well will try to pass the rock inside, which means Harrar should have another busy night on defense. Interim head coach Jim Ferry was disappointed by the defensive effort against Indiana, as Harrar allowed big man Trayce Jackson-Davis to put up 21 points, all coming from either inside the paint or at the charity stripe.

“We are a different team (defensively) than we have been the past couple of years,” Ferry said. “We just haven’t played a lot of games.... We have to defend inside significantly better than we have.”

Ferry has liked the improvement lately in other areas, however, particularly from junior guard Myreon Jones. After struggling to get his feet off the ground earlier in the year, he’s put up 20-plus points in his last two games.

Jones and company will look to shoot well from the floor against a formidable defense. The Buckeyes have allowed the third-least amount of points in the conference at 66.2 per game.

After the visit to Ohio, the Nittany Lions will return home to rematch No. 10 Michigan (9-0, 4-0) Saturday, Jan. 9 at 2:15 p.m. Penn State let a close contest slip away when they lost to the Wolverines 62-58 in Ann Arbor in early December.

However, it was undefeated Michigan’s closest margin. Head coach Juwan Howard’s group has beaten every other team so far by double digits.

Seven-footer Hunter Dickinson is in the running for the USBWA National Freshman of the Year Award with 16.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Harrar let him have his way in the first matchup when he scored 20 points and grabbed seven boards.

Sophomore Franz Wagner is coming off a 14 point, 10 rebound, five assist and five block game against Northwestern. The six-foot-nine guard can do just about everything on both sides of the floor.

The matchup will be a big test for the Nittany Lions as their conference onslaught continues. They’ll look to avoid falling into the basement of the Big Ten standings currently occupied by 0-4 Nebraska.

Jack McCune is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jxm1237@psu.edu.