Big Ten Insider: Penn State, Indiana scramble for comeback

Jonah L. Rosenblum

Eleven games into the Big Ten season, Penn State has knocked at the door many times but ultimately keeps getting turned away in its quest for its first conference win of the season.

“It’s important to break the cycle,” Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. “We’ve been in every game we played in the league, but we just can’t make that one big play to get over the hump.”

On Wednesday the Nittany Lions (8-15, 0-11 Big Ten) rallied from 13 down against Ohio State to make it a three-point game with less than two minutes remaining. Once again they were unable to complete the comeback, falling 75-62 to the No. 13 Buckeyes.

After falling in Columbus, Ohio, Penn State returned home to take on Minnesota. This time the Nittany Lions completed the comeback, tying the score at 64 with nine seconds remaining, only to suffer heartbreak again when Golden Gophers guard Lawrence Westbrook hit a buzzer-beater to give Minnesota the win.

“Give them credit,” DeChellis said. “Westbrook hit a big shot at the buzzer to beat us, and that’s how our luck, or non-luck, has gone this year.”

The Nittany Lions have struggled on both sides of the ball in conference play.

On offense they’ve averaged just 59.9 points per game, ninth in the Big Ten. They’ve had particular difficulties shooting the ball, ranking ninth in field goal percentage and last in free-throw percentage.

On defense Penn State forces just 8.8 turnovers per game, last in the Big Ten, and gives up the highest opponent field-goal percentage in the conference.

After 11 straight losses, Penn State now has several days to gather itself before No. 10 Michigan State visits Saturday.

“It’s good for us to step away, take a couple days off and get our legs back under us,” DeChellis said. “Our kids have fought and have done some good things but not good enough to win a game yet. So we’re going to continue to battle and get ready for the last stretch run here in the Big Ten season.”

Hoosiers hope to halt recent skid

There was a time when it seemed like Indiana had reclaimed its winning ways, upsetting Minnesota at home and then taking care of Penn State on the road. With a 3-3 conference record, the Hoosiers were emerging as one of the conference’s great surprises. Instead Indiana has lost four straight games, including two defeats in the final seconds.

The Hoosiers had a chance to pull off a road upset at Illinois, tying the score with 22 seconds to go, but ultimately fell 72-70 to the Fighting Illini. Nearly one week later, they almost upended Purdue, but were unable to pull it off, losing 78-75 to the Boilermakers.

And if the Hoosiers are going to halt their losing streak at four, they’ll have to do it against the best of the Big Ten. On Wednesday they host No. 13 Ohio State. The last time these two teams met, just over a month ago, the Buckeyes won by 25 in Columbus.

“We’re in full preparation mode right now for Ohio State,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “Their starting five is as talented as any in the country.”

Ohio State has been strong on both sides of the ball, and currently has the second-best in-conference scoring margin. The Buckeyes have outscored their Big Ten opponents by an average of 6.3 points this season.

On offense Ohio State has shot 46.9 percent, tops in the Big Ten. On defense the Buckeyes force 14.2 turnovers per game, second in the conference.

“They’re so efficent, and they get so many things done on both sides,” Crean said. “They’re creating a lot of issues with the turnovers they cause, with their disruption of another team’s offense. They share the ball, and they’re playing at a very high level.”

Indiana will need to improve defensively if it hopes to beat Ohio State. The Hoosiers have allowed 70.4 points per game in conference play, the highest number in the Big Ten.

“We have to make more stops,” Crean said. “We have to eliminate some of these brain freezes we have, when it comes to getting a hand all the way up on the shooter, or a late rotation. We want to continue to improve, but at the same time, we have to continue to prepare for one of the best teams in the country.”

Indiana will also rely on the continued strong play of guard Verdell Jones III. The sophomore has averaged 14.9 points per game this season, and has scored 20-plus points in each of his last three contests.

“He has continued to improve at a very high rate on all sides,” Crean said. “These last five or six games, he’s not only our leading scorer, but our leading assist guy. He’s doing a very good job of moving the ball-we have to continue to find more ways to utilize that.[email protected]