There's something about last-place Penn State that brings out the worst in No. 2 Ohio State.
For the second time in eight days, the Buckeyes had all they could handle against the Big Ten's worst team before finally pulling out a 68-60 victory Wednesday night.
And for the first time, coach Thad Matta seemed to show the frustration of having a team that, while continuing to win, hasn't put a team away for weeks.
Matta bristled when asked if it was an issue that prized 7-foot center Greg Oden only had nine shots against an undersized and seemingly overmatched opponent.
"It's a pretty good issue," Matta said, before spitting out an expletive. "We're 25-3. We're doing a couple of things well here. Yeah, I'd like to get it in to him every time down the floor. But we're 13-1 in the Big Ten and 25-3and I'm sitting up here like I don't know what the hell I'm doing tonight."
Jamar Butler scored 18 points and Oden had 17 points and 14 rebounds to help the Buckeyes survive. Daequan Cook added 12 points and Ron Lewis 11 for the Buckeyes, who hold a one-game edge with two games left in the Big Ten race.
The win set the stage for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown Sunday when top-ranked Wisconsin, still smarting from Tuesday night's 64-55 loss at Michigan State, comes to town. The winner is assured of at least a share of the Big Ten title.
Geary Claxton had 15 points, David Jackson 14 and Danny Morrissey 11 for the Nittany Lions (10-16, 1-12), who have lost their last 12 games. They are also 0-9 on the road and have lost 44 of their last 47 Big Ten road games. Yet for some reason, they give the Buckeyes a hard time.
Asked how his zone defense was able to keep Oden from getting the ball, Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said, "I'm just such a great zone coach _ even though we're last in the Big Ten in every category."
A week earlier, the Nittany Lions trailed by 21 at the half and by as many as 24 in second half but outscored Ohio State 19-4 down the stretch before falling 64-62. Mike Walker had a wide-open 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have given them the win.
The Buckeyes trailed by eight points in the first half Wednesday night and again early in the second before they finally started clicking on offense.
Lewis hit two free throws and Cook made only the Buckeyes' second 3-pointer in 11 attempts, off a feed from Mike Conley Jr., that cut it to 32-31. After a Penn State miss, Conley was left unguarded and drove for an easy layup for Ohio State's first lead since midway through the opening half.
Oden left a few minutes later, grimacing while holding his left hand. He has been wearing an elastic brace on his right, shooting hand this season after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his wrist last summer. He occasionally uses his right hand when shooting, but still shoots all free throws left handed.
He did return and play the final few minutes, however, with no obvious signs of problems with the hand.
Oden finished 6-of-9 from the field _ five other players in the game had as many or more shots.
"We stress getting the ball inside, not just to me," he said. "I'd like to touch the ball more but when my teammates get shots ... I'm confident they can hit those shots."
The teams traded baskets until Conley scored on a transition basket in traffic and was fouled, hitting the foul shot for a 48-45 lead with just over 7 minutes left. Butler hit a big 3 later to push the lead to 51-45. Jackson hit a 3 for the Lions, but Ohio State _ hurrying the ball back to beat the Penn State defense _ got an off-balance bank shot from Cook. Lewis' free throw and Butler's layup provided some breathing room at 56-48.
Penn State never got closer than six points again.
"It just came down to a couple of baskets we didn't make," DeChellis said.
Ohio State has won 12 in a row overall, 24 in a row at home and 11 in a row in the Big Ten. The confernce winning streak is the second-longest in school history, eclipsed only by the 27 in a row by the Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek teams of 1960-62.
"I wouldn't say it's a relief," Butler said of the narrow win. "It was just a good Big Ten game against a good team. We didn't shoot the ball well. We won."
© 2007 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.