Going into the game, I really believed PSU didn’t have a chance. But the Nittany Lions showed some toughness on the road and lost a hard-fought game to a supposedly much better team.
It didn’t look like it was going to be that way at the start. PSU looked dreadful in the first 10 minutes or so of the game as Minnesota raced out to a 21-10 lead. The offense was sputtering and Minnesota was getting further and further ahead. Stephen Bardo, the ESPN color guy, pointed to the foul on a Chris Babb 3-pointer as the turning point for PSU. Talor Battle hit a 3 on the next possession and PSU cut the lead to 5, but what seemed to be forgotten was Minnesota then extended their lead back to 10 at 26-16. I thought Tim Frazier was a huge key to why PSU stayed in the game in the first half. He came in and had 3 pretty assists that set up easy baskets in the half-court offense, something PSU wasn’t able to get before (except for a few long range jumpers from Battle). They went into halftime down only 7, a moral victory considering their play.
But a different PSU team came to play in the 2nd half. The Nittany Lions came out roaring to start the second half, as they hit their first 7 field goals. In the first 7 minutes, PSU outscored the Gophers 17-5 as they jumped out to a 44-39 lead. Talor Battle only contributed 2 of the 17 points. The damage was done mostly by Drew Jones and Jeff Brooks, who were getting great looks inside and finishing. It was exciting and encouraging to watch.
Minnesota weathered the early storm to the half as Hoffarber and Westbrook really started to get going, but PSU wouldn’t go away. Frazier hit a pretty 8 foot floater on a fast break and Battle then hit one of his patented 30-footers. The score was in PSU’s favor at 53-50 with 9 minutes left, when the turnovers came at all the wrong times. Minnesota stepped up the pressure and the Lions weren’t able to handle it, whether it was fatigue, inexperience, or inability to hang onto the rock. They turned it over on 4 straight possessions.
David Jackson did his best to keep PSU in it, hitting a big 3 to tie it at 56, but that’s when a huge swing really killed PSU. First, after struggling with the full-court pressure, PSU finally beat it until Andrew Jones couldn’t finish a contested dunk. That was a momentum killer, as Minnesota grabbed the board, raced down to court, and scored on a putback. PSU beat the pressure yet again, but Jeff Brooks took an ill-advised elbow jumper that he missed. It was a shot that even if he made it, I think DeChellis still would’ve been fuming. Penn State was playing into Minnesota’s fullcourt game, which is exactly what ED didn’t want to do, especially at such a critical point in the game. Jackson and Battle hit some big shots to keep PSU in it, but another turnover by Chris Babb (or should I say he got tripped and there was no call) was killer. It didn’t help that PSU couldn’t stop Westbrook, who scored 29 points (11-16 from the floor). Battle was guarding him most of the night, but it’s hard to be critical of a player’s defense when he had to play all 40 minutes. He’s understandably not going to be able to exert the necessary defensive pressure down the stretch. DeChellis finally put DJ on Westbrook towards the end of the game, but his damage was already done.
All in all it was a very encouraging performance, but the turnovers killed the Lions down the stretch. After making the first 7 shots on their first 7 possessions of the 2nd half, PSU finished with 9 turnovers in the remaining 12 minutes of play. Westbrook and Hoffarber hit some timely threes that put away the game.
- Talor Battle – 40 minutes, 23 points (7-14/5-8), 6 rebounds, 4 assists. Quality game from Talor, but too many minutes prevented him from stopping Westbrook. Or at least attempt to make it more difficult for him.
- Andrew Jones – 12 points and 8 rebounds. His best game of the year, but that missed dunk was a big play down the stretch. Hopefully Drew builds off this game after such a lackluster non-conference performance.
- Jeff Brooks – 9 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. Jeff played well, but I thought he could’ve been a little more assertive. Those are some good numbers for Jeff, but it didn’t feel like he had that great of an impact on the game to me.
- David Jackson – 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists. I thought David did exactly what we needed him to do. He made big plays down the stretch as he tried to keep the Lions in it. His confidence was rising as he created a pretty 15 foot baseline jumper off the bounce to cut MN’s lead to 2. Didn’t seem hampered at all with the hyperextended knee.
- Chris Babb – played OK. He doesn’t have the green light to shoot anymore, as he only took 4 3-pointers (box score says 3, he was fouled on the other). I thought he did OK handling the ball as well, but his turnover (whether he got tripped or not) was killer.
- Tim Frazier – played great in the first half to get PSU back in it, but he was credited for 3 turnovers in the 2nd half. It didn’t look like he was slowed down at all from a ‘turned ankle’, but DeChellis only played him for 13 minutes.
- Andrew Ott – gave a forgettable 5 minutes. At least Drew got some rest.
- Bill Edwards – struggled heavily in his first BT game. He forced the issue quite a few times. He’s an above average ball-handler for a guy his size, but I’m pretty sure DeChellis doesn’t want him breaking a press by himself. He still contributed with 2 big putbacks in the 2nd half. I thought it was pretty telling of the coaching staff’s confidence in him when ED had Bill in there for the last 3 minutes of the game instead of Jeff, who had been playing better.
Always disappointing to lose road games that you had a chance to win in the 2nd half, but this was a great early experience for the team. Despite the loss, there was a lot of good that came out of it. The question now is can the supporting cast build off their performances? If Jones/Jackson/Brooks contribute like they did in this game, this team can win some games in this league. We’ll see if they can break the streak against those damn Bo Ryan Badgers tomorrow.