There have been 3 constants to this Penn State basketball team that have bugged me all season long. It all started in July when the embarrassment of a non-conference schedule was released. Now, it seems more and more likely that that blunder is going to leave us out of the Big Dance, and it’s unfair to our players (especially Jamelle Cornley). Another constant is our ability to lock ourselves into grind-it-out half court warfares against the slow dogs of the Big Ten (Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa, NW), only to not bring any sort of halfcourt sets/plays/strategy to the battle. Our lack of movement/organization on offense and our overdependence on Battle will always be frustrating to me. But most of all, I have yet to even slightly understand DeChellis’ rotation. He has seemed to only trust certain players over his time here and relies on only them down the stretch. I can’t help but feel the coaching staff really screwed the pooch with Chris Babb and Cammeron Woodyard’s freshmen year. Now sports to the public is like an iceberg. You can only see a little bit of what goes on, while most of the action goes on behind-the-scenes to the public’s eye. I have not been to a PSU practice and I do not watch game film, so maybe there’s something going on there that’s holding Babb and Woodyard off the court.
However, what I do know is PSU would not have won yesterday without Chris Babb and Cam Woodyard’s contributions, primarily in the atrocious first half. Scott Skiles, Donnee Gray, and Dan Christman decided to call every rule in the book and completely disrupted the whole flow of the half. Neither team got in any sort of rhthym as there were 20 personal foul calls and 22 turnovers (mostly unforced due to a high number of travels/palming violations) all in the first half. There were 9 turnovers committed combined by both teams before the first media TO (the score was 2-2 after 5 minutes). It was easily the worst played and officiated half I’ve seen all year. But thanks to Babb and Woodyard, PSU was able to stay in it.
Cammeron Woodyard scored 7 points (on just 2 shots) in 8 minutes. Babb made a three, but his best play was what clearly got Talor Battle’s season back on track. Battle was struggling once again the whole first half. He had just 2 points on 2 foul shots going into the last possession of the half, and he still had yet to make a field goal. PSU was holding for the last shot of the half (down 2, 23-21). That usually means wait ’til 7 seconds or so are left on the shot clock and clear out for Talor Battle to get in the lane and make a play (which of course bugged the hell out of me at the time). Unfortunately for Battle, that turned into a strip in the lane and Minny forced the turnover with 5 seconds left. Travis Busch attempted a long outlet down the court, trying to get a good look for Minnesota before the buzzer. However, Chris Babb made a heads-up play by hustling his ass off to steal the ill-advised pass, keeping his poise with the clock winding down, and kicking it off to Battle on the wing. Battle swished the open look as the buzzer went off and you could just tell that that shot lifted all the pressure off of Battle’s shoulders. So instead of going into the half down 2 (or more) with Battle hanging his head, PSU went into the half up 1 (24-23) with the momentum. Thank you, Chris Babb for making that happen. I wish you a Happy Birthday for your play yesterday.
I thought PSU had a chance yesterday because I knew there would be opportunites for PSU to get out in transition and let our guards make plays. PSU got those opportunities in the second half as Battle and Pringle scored 29 second half points. They connected on 7-13 treys in the second half, as they looked like their old selves again by penetrating and moving the ball effectively, resulting in good looks. PSU jumped out to a 41-32 lead in the second half thanks to three consecutive Pringle threes. PSU was looking to go on to a comfortable victory until Devoe Joseph had other plans. He scored 23 points in the second half for the Gophers, 21 of them came with under 12 minutes to go, and he scored 18 of Minnesota’s final 21 points. He connected on 7 of 8 shots from behind the arc. PSU lost him a few times on defense, but you gotta tip your hat to a guy who’s going to make that many. He simply would not miss and he damn near won Minnesota the game. He gave Minnesota the lead back, 56-53 with 5 minutes left. Then Talor Battle, like he has so many times before, took over the game. After missing a three on the previous possession, Battle hoisted another 25 footer with confidence and drilled it to tie the game. After some foul shots, Battle came up with the play of the game. You could tell as the clock was winding down that Battle wanted to lockdown Joseph. Despite playing all those minutes, Battle refused to let Joseph out of his sight. He fought through screens and followed him wherever he went. Then as Joseph had the ball out 28 feet or so away from the basket, Battle picked his pocket as he tried to crossover. Battle corralled the deflection and raced down the court. He cleverly waited for Joseph to catch up, crossed over to the right side of the rim, drew the foul and hung in the air long enough to make the basket. That gave PSU a 60-56 lead with just under a minute to go. Drew Jones came up with a huge offensive rebound on Battle’s ensuing missed foul shot (one of the very few misses from the charity stripe) that resulted in two more foul shots for PSU with 37 seconds to go. Battle hit his foul shots to extend the lead to 62-56. The team hit their foul shots down the stretch and came away with a much needed win, not only for their Dance chances but also for their psyche as well.
- Battle finished with 21 points (16 in the second half). He also dished out 4 assists and came up with all the big plays down the stretch. His confidence is clearly back, but he better be ready for the war on Wednesday. Illinois will not be letting him do anything.
- Chris Babb played probably his best game of the year. In 16 minutes, he finished with 8 points with 2 treys, but he made plenty of defensive plays, including the steal that got Battle started. He lost Joseph a couple of times, but credit Minnesota for executing some double screens for him.
- Cammeron Woodyard didn’t see the floor in the second half until there was 10 seconds left. This is what I don’t understand. He was the leading scorer at halftime (7 points in 8 minutes), but he doesn’t even see any time in the second half? Talk about how to not show confidence in your own players…
- Andrew Jones had another decent game. Stayed out of foul trouble enough to log 33 minutes (played all 20 second half minutes). Pulled down 9 rebounds against Minnesota’s tall frontcourt, none bigger than that offensive board on Battle’s missed foul shot. His foul shooting’s really coming along as well. He got off to a terrible start from the foul line, but in Big Ten play he has hit 18 of 24 foul shots (75%). Now maybe PSU should try to make him an option in their offense, instead of just letting him score garbage points. But he’s really progressed well this season.
- David Jackson has seemingly turned it around a little bit. After a solid November, he really went into the tank in December and January. It seemed like his season was a lost cause, but he’s made some solid plays the last 3 games. He hit some huge free throws yesterday and had a strong take in the lane for a layup. He’s actually scored some points in the last 3 games while logging over 20 minutes. Hopefully he can build on it.
- Brooks is still all over the place, though. Completely inconsistent.
- Pringle seemed to bust out of his shooting slump as well, at least briefly. He nailed 3 consecutive threes and scored 11 straight points in a span of about 2 minutes. He finished with 13 points.
- Cornley didn’t play well. He has somehow adopted a guard’s mentality and now finds himself trying to drive to the hoop more often than posting up. It’s not his game and I have no idea why he’s insisting on playing like he has, hanging out on the perimeter and such. The few times he did post up, Minnesota did a nice job of doubling down on him (thanks to poor spacing from PSU). He never got on track and finished with just 6 points and 5 boards.
Have to give a shoutout to the team for their free throw performance. As a team, PSU connected on 21 of 28 foul shots and that included Cornley’s usual, abysmal 2-5. That has to be the best performance of the year (I’m not looking it up), and it ultimately won PSU the game. Battle went 5-6, Jackson hit 4 of 4, and Andrew Jones and Cam Woodyard hit both their foul shots. It was encouraging.
But back to Babb and Woodyard’s playing time. The most frustrating part of their great performance yesterday was that it only happened because of a player injury. Danny Morrissey’s old knees are starting to catch up to him. He has a lot of swelling and pain so he sat out practice and yesterday’s game. That allowed Babb and Woodyard to see the court. I shouldn’t find myself rooting for a player to sit out so others can get some valuable playing time, but that’s the situation I find myself in. Babb and Woodyard NEED to play. D Mo and Pringle are gone next year and Battle’s going to need somebody to help him out in the backcourt. Babb looked very shaky in the non-con, but he’s been solid whenever he’s gotten the chance to play in the conference. Woodyard to me has always looked confident ever since he stepped on the court for the first time this season. But for whatever reason, DeChellis rarely plays them. I don’t want to throw Morrissey under the bus because he’s paid his dues to this program, but how can you justify playing him now? He’s slow and a liability in man defense. If his jumper isn’t falling (which it hasn’t this year), he really isn’t much use on offense. He isn’t a good ball handler or penetrator. Babb and Woodyard have size and athleticism to play in this league. I don’t care how Ed does it, but they need to get at least 10 MPG the rest of the way. Whether that means they take some of Jackson/Brooks time at the 3 or if they take Morrissey’s PT, it doesn’t matter. Get them on the court and let them learn/contribute. Babb has scored at least 5 points every game in conference where he’s played more than 10 minutes (5 games). While those points might’ve been garbage points or came when the game was already over, I don’t care. Jackson has logged 10+ MPG eleven times in conference play and has only scored 5 or more points twice (both coming in the last 3 games). Brooks has logged 10+ MPG in every conference game and also has only scored 5 or more points twice. PSU needs bench production, and Jackson, Brooks, and Morrissey haven’t provided it. Give Babb and Woodyard the chance, please.
This win temporarily keeps PSU’s slim dance chances alive. PSU is now 2-3 in their 7 game death stretch, with trips to Illinois and Ohio State remaining, before they get their home game against IU. 11-7 in conference is the target for an at-large bid, so PSU will have to win 4 of their last 5 games. However, 3 of those games are on the road…starting with a trip to Illinois on Wednesday.