Saturday, March 11, 2000

Ohio St. blows shot at No. 1 seed

Penn State knocks off 71-66

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CHICAGO — It was there for the taking for Ohio State, laid out like a well-earned gift. A No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A chance to play two hours from campus. The path of least resistance for a return trip to the Final Four.

        But it is all gone, stolen away in the March Madness by yet another surprising upstart. Or frittered away by Ohio State, however you choose to view the Buckeyes' 71-66 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals Friday at the United Center.

        Ohio State (22-6) will still earn a high seed come Selection Sunday, possibly even a No. 2 or No. 3. But Friday's loss assured it won't be drawing any No. 1 seed, much less the Midwest's top prize and a first-round date in Cleveland.

        That had become a possibility Thursday, when the University of Cincinnati lost both its conference tournament game and center Kenyon Martin to injury. Now, the Buckeyes can only turn to what they learned last year, when they rebounded from a surprising Big Ten tournament loss to Illinois, earned a No. 4 NCAA seed and marched on to the Final Four.

        “To think that we're going to get a first seed is out of the question at this point,” Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said. “I really thought that with some of the other teams losing, we had put ourselves in a position that if we took care of our own business, it was conceivable we could have gotten a really good seed. I still think we deserve a pretty good seed.”

        But the Buckeyes, who entered this Big Ten tournament as the league's top seed after sharing the regular season ti tle with Michigan State, didn't take care of their own business.

        They allowed ninth-seeded Penn State (15-14) to shoot 52 percent from the field, 62 percent in the first half. Their point guard and emotional sparkplug, Scoonie Penn, made just 3-of-16 shots, only 2-of-14 from 3-point range, and turned the ball over seven times. They blew a slim lead late in the second half, allowing Penn State to dribble unimpeded in to the lane and dunk back missed shots.

        And worst of all, the Buckeyes just didn't seem to have an urgency about playing for a No. 1 seed and the conference tournament title. That was obvious midway through the first half, when they lost a nine-point lead and began wearing the look of nonchalance that did them in. They were off their game physically and mentally all day, and never got back on.

        Penn State, meanwhile, wore the look of the hungry challenger, flying to loose balls, fighting for rebounds, nailing their shots, open or not. The Nittany Lions took the lead with 2:15 to play on a 3-pointer by ailing guard Joe Crispin, who was weakened by an upper respiratory infection, and sealed it by sinking 7-of-8 from the free throw line.

        “They had nothing to lose. We had a lot to lose,” said Ohio State swingman Michael Redd, who scored 19 points but shot just 6-of-15 from the field. “I don't think we played hard at all.”

        “They came out with a lot more passion than we did today,” Penn said. “They had the enthusiasm, they looked like they wanted it more than we did.”

        Whether it was mental or mechanical, Ohio State just wasn't itself. Penn, arguably the nation's most under control floor leader, was bottled up by the Lions' defense, which schemed to limit his penetration, cut off his passing lanes and force him to shoot. He did, but as as his been his curse all season, did not do it well.

        “This game, more than any other game all season, I had wide-open looks,” Penn said. “I just couldn't put them down. It was just one of those days.”

        Forward George Reese tried to make up for it with 22 points, but none in the waning minutes when Penn State took control.

        Penn State's guards, on the other hand, were clutch. Crispin scored just 13, nine below his average, but hit the lead-taking shot and five crucial free throws. Titus Ivory, who had just 15 points combined in Ohio State's two earlier defeats of Penn State, scored 17 this time. And big men Jarrett Stephens (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Gyasi Cline-Heard (nine) weren't at all intimidated by Buckeye shot-blocking center Ken Johnson, attacking the middle aggressively.

        “We had confidence,” Stephens said. “We didn't think this team could beat us three times in a row.”

        While Penn State takes that confidence to the conference semifinals against Illinois, Ohio State takes its cracked psyche home to get hungry again.

        “This is our motivation for the NCAA Tournament,” Redd said.

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PENN ST (71)
                      fg    ft    rb
               min   m-a   m-a   o-t  a pf   tp
Stephens        34 10-14   0-0  3-12  1  4   21
Ivory           28  7-13   0-3   1-2  3  3   17
Jackson          7   0-0   0-0   1-1  0  1    0
Joe Crispin     36   4-8   4-4   0-1  7  0   13
Jon Crispin     32   1-4   1-2   1-2  3  0    4
Watkins          4   0-1   0-0   0-0  0  0    0
Cline-heard     32  4-10   1-5  1-10  2  4    9
Smith           25   1-3   2-2   1-3  3  4    5
Banta            2   1-1   0-0   1-1  0  0    2
TOTALS         200 28-54  8-16  9-32 19 16   71

Percentages: FG-.519, FT-.500. 3-Point Goals: 7-16, .438 (Stephens 1-2, Ivory 3-5, Joe Crispin 1-3, Jon Crispin 1-4, Smith 1-2). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: None. Turnovers: 14 (Joe Crispin 4, Jon Crispin 3, Stephens 3, Ivory 2, Smith, Watkins). Steals: 10 (Cline-heard 3, Jon Crispin 2, Stephens 2, Ivory, Joe Crispin, Smith).

OHIO ST (66) fg ft rb min m-a m-a o-t a pf tp Redd 36 6-15 6-6 3-5 2 4 19 Reese 38 9-13 4-6 3-8 2 2 22 Johnson 33 4-6 0-1 5-6 1 4 8 Penn 35 3-16 0-1 0-3 8 2 8 Brown 27 2-7 0-0 3-6 2 3 4 Darby 19 1-6 0-0 0-3 2 1 3 Savovic 4 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 Dudley 8 1-4 0-0 4-4 0 0 2 _______________________________________________ TOTALS 200 26-68 10-14 18-35 17 16 66 _______________________________________________

Percentages: FG-.382, FT-.714. 3-Point Goals: 4-26, .154 (Redd 1-3, Penn 2-14, Brown 0-3, Darby 1-5, Savovic 0-1). Team rebounds: 6. Blocked shots: 6 (Johnson 4, Reese, Brown). Turnovers: 14 (Penn 7, Brown 3, Redd 3, Reese). Steals: 4 (Redd 2, Darby, Penn). __________________________________ Penn St 37 34 - 71 Ohio St 35 31 - 66 __________________________________ Technical fouls: None. A: 21,141. Officials: Ed Hightower, Mike Sanzere, Sid Rodeheffer.

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