COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Jeremie Simmons went to Ohio State’s coaching staff on Sunday and suggested that P.J. Hill start in his place.
It ended up being an ingenious move for Simmons, for Hill – and for the Buckeyes.
Simmons came off the bench to score 14 points and Hill added a career-high 13, and the two also led a second-half surge as Ohio State beat Penn State 73-59 Tuesday night to end a three-game losing skid.
“I’m a real person. I understand that P.J., he works hard every day,” Simmons said of his selfless act. “I knew he would start us off strong on the defensive end so I wanted him to start.”
Simmons scored the last five points of the first half to give Ohio State a lead, then hit three 3-pointers as the Buckeyes (18-8, 8-7 Big Ten) took control by scoring 25 of the game’s final 35 points.
“It was basically they were collapsing on ET (Evan Turner),” Simmons said. “I had good looks and was able to knock them down.”
Hill, making his first start in his 49th game at Ohio State, gave the Buckeyes some energy at both ends. So did freshman center B.J. Mullens who also had 13 points. Another freshman, William Buford, added 11 points, all in the first half.
Turner, second in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.2 points per game, did not score in the opening 32 minutes and finished with just six points. But he had a career-high eight assists to go with six rebounds.
“Our plan was to take Turner out,” Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. “We were trying to make somebody else beat us and Hill and the other kid (Simmons) did.”
Jamelle Cornley had 11 points in a return to his hometown, with Stanley Pringle, Talor Battle and Andrew Jones each scoring 10 for the Nittany Lions (19-9, 8-7).
The game was a critical showdown between teams who may end up vying for one of the last spots in the NCAA tournament from the Big Ten.
“We were on a three-game losing streak by 10 points,” Mullens said. “That hurts us, but tonight was a big win for us. It gave us our confidence back.”
Cornley was disappointed with the outcome -particularly since Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is on the NCAA selection committee.
“We didn’t really get what we wanted, but all year we’ve been trying to prove to not just us but the entire country that we’re a good team,” he said. “I think the committee has seen that we’re a pretty tough team.”
The first half was a study in extremes. The Buckeyes led 19-2 after the opening 8 minutes – and within 5 minutes trailed 23-22.
Ohio State, ahead by two at the half, led 37-32 after a 3 and a rebound follow by Hill, the smallest player on the court at 6-foot-1.
With the Buckeyes still up 39-34, Cornley hit a layup off a give-and-go with Pringle, Jones hit two foul shots and Battle looped in a lengthy 3 over a defender’s outstretched arm for a 41-39 Penn State lead. Pringle’s 3 after the Lions retained possession with an offensive rebound pushed the lead to 44-39.
“We were our own worst enemy,” DeChellis said. “We missed some open shots. We had the lead with 13 minutes to go. And then they went on a run.”
Simmons fueled Ohio State’s comeback.
His back-to-back 3s from the left corner gave Ohio State a 51-49 lead. Turner assisted on the second long shot. Moments later, Turner grabbed a missed shot and arched a high baseline jumper for his first points of the game with just under 8 minutes left. At the other end, Penn State missed two shots, with Turner finally getting the rebound and throwing a long pass to the 7-foot Mullens who had somehow snuck in for a layup behind the Lions’ defense.
Mullens was then awarded two free throws when he and Battle bumped into each other, and he hit both shots. After Battle air-balled a 3, Mullens then lost the handle on a pass but regained it and hit a layup to make it 59-49 and push the Ohio State run to 11-0.
Moments later, Simmons hit yet another 3 from the same spot in the right corner to make it 64-52 with 3 minutes left to assure Ohio State of its 11th straight win over the Nittany Lions.
“Jeremie just said, ‘I can play better. I want to play better. I’d like to try coming off the bench,”’ Ohio State coach Thad Matta said in reconstructing his conversation with Simmons. “That says a lot about him. I thought both he and P.J. were very effective tonight.”