STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - Penn State's four senior starters will face their toughest opponent of the season in their last home game.
What a way for record-setting guard Talor Battle and his classmates to wind up their careers Tuesday in Happy Valley _ hosting Ohio State in the Buckeyes' first game since vaulting back into the No. 1 spot Monday in the AP Top 25 poll.
"It's a great, great situation to have. The No. 1 team, the last game at home," senior Jeff Brooks said Monday. "It's going to be a lot of fun."
These border rivals find themselves on opposite ends of the NCAA tournament spectrum.
The Buckeyes (27-2, 14-2 Big Ten) are a tournament lock and can clinch the regular-season league title by winning their final two games. After beating Indiana 82-61 on Sunday, Ohio State faces a tough, NCAA tourney-like turnaround by having to play Penn State two days later on the road.
"Go to sleep. Get some rest, stay off your legs," Buckeyes forward David Lighty said Sunday. "Hopefully get a ride around campus going to class. Just being smart, pretty much. And hydrate as much as possible since we play in a short span of time.
At Penn State (15-12, 8-8), Wednesday's contest means so much more than just giving fans a chance to say goodbye to Battle, Brooks and fellow senior starters Andrew Jones and David Jackson.
An upset of the Buckeyes _ who have won 14 straight in this series_ would give a tremendous boost to the Nittany Lions' flailing NCAA tournament hopes.
No pressure, guys.
"We're trying to build our resume, just like a lot of other teams are trying to build their resumes," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. "We have to put our best foot forward and try to continue to win games, and the next one just happens to be Ohio State."
The Buckeyes just happen to be the last opponent to be ranked No. 1, in the coaches poll, while playing Penn State, a 68-60 win for Ohio State in Columbus on Feb. 21, 2007. The Nittany Lions are 0-11 against top-ranked teams in either poll.
But Penn State can be tough at home, where their 6-2 league record includes upsets against ranked foes Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin. DeChellis' crew is 3-1 in their last four as it enters the final week of the season.
The Nittany Lions can take little comfort with having lost to Ohio State by just three points, 69-66, in the teams' last meeting on Jan. 15 in Columbus. And Penn State has played reasonably well at home against the Buckeyes in recent years, including a 64-62 loss in 2007.
"They've got four seniors and obviously with Talor Battle, one of the best guards in the league," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "Obviously, with the game here (on Sunday afternoon) it's going to be a tremendous challenge for us."
Battle has led the way as usual, the do-it-all sparkplug who had made a career of hitting clutch shots. The 6-foot guard is just six rebounds shy of becoming only the third Division I player to amass 2,000 points, 600 rebounds and 500 assists in his career, a plateau only reached by Duke's Danny Ferry and Maryland's Greivis Vasquez.
But it's the frontcourt of Jones, Brooks and Jackson that could provide the difference. The low-possession Nittany Lions are much tougher when their forwards are rebounding with vigor and keeping possessions alive on the offensive end _ like during the January win streak over ranked foes.
The Nittany Lions have no choice but to assert themselves against the Buckeyes and star freshman forward Jared Sullinger if they want to make a case for ending its decade-long NCAA tournament drought.
"We need to have the game tomorrow night," DeChellis said. "I don't care who it is."
A fifth senior _ little-used walk-on Steve Kirkpatrick _ is also expected to start against Ohio State in his final home game, in place of sophomore point guard Tim Frazier.