PSU won their Big Ten opener over the Wildcats on New Years Eve. Despite claiming I would be attending, plans changed and I just watched the game on ESPN2.
For the first 25 minutes, it was clear that the change of plans was in good fortune to me. PSU couldn’t make a bucket. It was clear DeChellis’ strategy was to try to rotate and exploit mismatches in NW’s matchup zone defense. He gave Pringle and Battle free reign to penetrate whenever they had the chance. Well, Pringle failed miserably at penetrating. He had a nice drive on the first possession and missed a very easy layup. His drives often resulted in turnovers or bad shots. He played horribly for most of the game.
A flu bug was going around the team, as Danny Morrissey didn’t even attend the contest, he was so sick. David Jackson couldn’t make the start because he was too busy vomiting in the lockerroom. He only played 6 meaningless minutes, missing his only shot. Jamelle Cornley was vomiting at halftime and had to leave the court once to yak. At least he had an excuse for his very poor play.
As expected, we dominated on the glass. PSU outrebounded NW 40-23, while pulling down 16 offensive rebounds. The problem was PSU couldn’t convert most of their second chances. I only remember two putbacks in the paint the whole game. Jeff Brooks had a nice little jump hook on the putback for the first points of the game (he got the start instead of DJ). Talor Battle had the other amazing putback amongst the trees. There were so many missed bunnies, it was astonishing. PSU needs to learn to dunk the ball or go up hard, Andrew Jones in particular. While playing one of his best games defensively, he finished 0-4 from the field while 3 of those shots were putbacks. Jamelle missed a lot of putbacks as well.
But while PSU was playing horribly, Talor Battle took over in Joe Crispin-style in the second half. He drained 5 second half threes, most of them contested. In one stretch, he scored 17 of PSU’s 21 points, flipping a 34-28 deficit into a 49-44 lead. He finished the game with another double-double, 26 points 12 rebounds and 2 assists.
Battle energized the whole team as they held on for a 61-57 victory. Pringle made some huge buckets down the stretch to make up for many of his lost possessions earlier in the game. He hit an open 3 off an offensive board, drained a fallaway jumper to give PSU a 6 point lead with a little over a minute left, then hit the game’s 2 clinching free throws with 3.9 seconds left (which allowed us who said PSU would cover the 3.5 spread to win). In fact, PSU made 5 of their last 6 foul shots, which is greatly encouraging. Especially two by Jeff Brooks. NW let him get the ball on the in-bounds and Jeff converted both in the pressure one-and-one situation, extending the lead back to two possessions.
With the flu bug going around, it allowed some players a chance to prove themselves. Chris Babb and Jeff Brooks were the primary benefactors. Jeff got the start, and while he had too many defensive lapses, he made up for a lot of it. He had a highlight reel block that hasn’t been seen since Claxton’s careers been over. He forced a few turnovers on defense and drained a bigtime three from the corner to jumpstart PSU’s comeback, as the Lions were down 34-23 at the time. He finished with 9 points (3-6 from the field), 4 boards, 2 assists and that block. Probably his best game of the year and made a good push for DJ’s playing time, since he’s been struggling. Chris Babb looked pretty good on the court, logging 20 minutes. While his fellow freshmen Woodyard got burnt on multiple backdoors in his short time on the floor, Babb, as far as I recall, did not get out of position on defense. He took a couple of bad shots, but he did finish with 5 points and 2 assists. While he didn’t do too much, he wasn’t a liability by any means. He looked calm and confident, and hopefully he can build off the experience. We’re going to need him.
PSU played poorly for quite a good part of the game, but they did manage to comeback and avoid disaster. Off to the dreaded Kohl Center tomorrow…