Ohio State Faces Rough Road, Big Reward at Penn State

BruceHooley

It may look and feel like Ohio State's basketball season is coming apart at the seams, but head coach Chris Holtmann insists the fabric of the Buckeyes remains strong as they approach a crucial game Saturday at Penn State.

OSU blunted a four-game losing streak with an 80-68 victory over Nebraska on Tuesday, but while the victory was a welcome change to recent circumstances, it came with unwelcome baggage.

Holtmann suspended starting guards Duane Washington and Luther Muhammad 90 minutes before tip-off, consummating something the coach had been contemplating for three days.

 The specifics of their "failure to maintain program expectations" traced to something off-court, but Holtmann said both players responded to the discipline  and the team's slump does not indicate a program in disarray.

"Have there been some challenging times and trying times? Sure," Holtmann said. "But I love our guys. I love our group. I just think there is so much basketball left. It's not the end of the ups and downs."

The result at Penn State will be one or the other -- a mountain crested or a valley deepened by a fifth league loss.

A victory would be huge, giving the Buckeyes (12-5, 2-4) a sweep of one of the league's tougher teams and a crucial road victory in a conference where those are rare.

A loss would likely end any hope of winning the Big Ten and leave unanswered whether Ohio State has regained its form from early in the season.

Five weeks ago, when cruising along at No. 6 nationally, OSU pasted the Lions, 106-74, in Columbus.

That's when points were falling from the sky in the form of the Buckeyes' first 100-point game in conference in 28 seasons, thanks to 14-of-26 3-point shooting and 57% shooting overall.

Penn State woke up after that to win five straight, but it's lost three in a row now and so will be extra salty to get a win and repay OSU for the embarassment it inflicted in the teams' first meeting.

Washington and Muhammad each scored 14 points in that rout.

Holtmann has made no statement as to their availability for the game Saturday, although he could do that at a Friday press conference or keep the Lions purposefully in the dark until tip.

"I'm just anxious to see how we (proceed)," Holtmann said. "We've had some better practices here of late. I'm anxious to see if that continues and I'm anxious to see collectively what our approach and attitude is consistently.. When I see that, when we see that consistently and feel good about that, then I'll live with the results."

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