COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Freshman Jared Sullinger scored 19 points and hit a three-point play with 13.2 seconds left to lift No. 2 Ohio State to a 69-66 victory over Penn State on Saturday.
The victory, on the heels of top-ranked Duke’s 66-61 loss at Florida State on Wednesday night, could propel the Buckeyes (18-0, 5-0 Big Ten) to the No. 1 spot in next week’s rankings.
Fellow freshman Aaron Craft also had 19 points, a career-high, to go with seven assists and brilliant defense against Penn State (10-7, 3-3) star Talor Battle. Battle’s 3-pointer with 2 seconds left came up short.
David Jackson had 19 points, Battle 15 and Tim Frazier and Jeff Brooks 11 apiece for the Nittany Lions, trying to upset three straight ranked teams for the first time in school history.
William Buford added 13 points and Jon Diebler had 10 for the Buckeyes, off to the third-fastest start in the school’s 112 years of the sport. Only the 1960-61 team (27-0) and the 1961-62 team (22-0), both led by Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek and both of which lost in the national championship game, have been better.
Sullinger was 6 of 9 from the field and 7 of 9 at the line and had six rebounds and matched a career best with five assists. Craft was 7 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 6 on 3-pointers, and also had seven assists and three rebounds to go with one turnover in 35 minutes.
With the score tied at halftime, the Buckeyes took control with a 12-2 run. Defense fueled the fun, with the Buckeyes forcing turnovers on four of Penn State’s first seven possessions. At the other end, Buford, Diebler, Craft and Diebler again hit 3-pointers.
The biggest Ohio State lead was 44-34 after two free throws by Sullinger.
But the Nittany Lions made a run.
Battle, having an off night shooting, reached in to flick away a pass from Craft and then scored on the layup, putting Penn State up 61-60 with under 3 minutes left.
Seconds later, however, Buford made a 3.
The capacity crowd booed with 1:12 left when Battle, isolated on Craft, drove the lane and lost his footing but benefited from a call against Craft. Battle’s two foul shots tied it at 63.
The Buckeyes went back inside to Sullinger on the ensuing possession, with the big guy hitting a half hook while being fouled by Andrew Jones – his fifth – with 59.8 seconds remaining. The freshman then completed the three-point play for a 66-63 lead.
Again Penn State responded. Battle’s 3-point from the left wing was short, but Jackson got the rebound and put it back in while being fouled. His free throw with 43.2 seconds left knotted things once again.
Ohio State worked the ball patiently around the perimeter, twice throwing it into Sullinger on the low block with him tossing it back once. But on the second, he rolled across the middle of the lane and flipped up a shot that fell while a foul was called. He again hit the foul shot.
The Nittany Lions hurried down court and then gave the ball to Battle, leading the Big Ten in scoring at 20.9 points a game. Without a pick, he pump-faked and then let go of a shot that came up short of the mark as the buzzer sounded.
Penn State was coming off a 66-62 win over No. 18 Michigan State last Saturday, and 57-55 win over No. 16 Illinois on Tuesday. The Nittany Lions were trying to stretch their best start in conference play since a 4-0 mark in 1996.
The Nittany Lions led most of the first half, with the Buckeyes finally squaring things at 32 on two free throws by Sullinger as the teams headed into the break.
Penn State seemed to get good looks out of its motion offense the entire half. During one 3 1/2-minute span, the Nittany Lions scored on five of six possessions – the only time they didn’t was because of a turnover – to go from a tie at 17 to a 27-23 lead.
Jackson had 12 points – on 5 of 7 shooting – and Battle was his usual spectacular self. He had nine points, three assists, two rebounds and didn’t have a turnover or a foul in an efficient 20 minutes without a rest.