Finally, an egg was not laid in a big home game (in front of 14,000+). Finally, Ed DeChellis and these seniors beat the Wisconsin Badgers. Finally, this team looks like an NCAA tournament squad. It’s been one hell of a longtime coming, but the Nits out-muscled, out-worked, and out-played the 15th-ranked Badgers yesterday for the biggest victory of the year.
It was another tale of two halves, though, as the outcome of the game looked very bleak at halftime. Wisconsin played their usual, grueling style, and PSU was ice cold from the floor. The Badgers jumped out to a 22-9 lead with 7:39 to play on another agonizing bucket at the shot clock buzzer, this time courtesy of a Jordan Taylor 3 at the top of the key. DJ Jackson and Jermaine Marshall hit some big shots to keep the Lions in the game, but it just seemed a lot like the 2009 Wisconsin home game all over again (that the NIT champs lost 54-44). Even when the Nits looked like they were gonna get a stop, Wisky would get the offensive board or draw a foul. It can be really frustrating to watch, especially when you know Wisconsin is going to waste another 30 seconds of game clock. The halftime numbers were ugly, and it would’ve been a lot worse if Wisconsin didn’t turn it over 6 times.
However, PSU came out fearless and stormed back. They went on an 18-6 run to start the half, taking a 38-35 lead. This was due to Talor Battle getting on track and Tim Frazier having a positive impact. Tim had a rough start to the game, getting burned on defense and turning it over on offense. He only played 8 minutes, then sat (largely due to Marshall’s effectiveness). But when he was in for this stretch, TB and TF were effective penetrating against Wisconsin’s defense. Talor had a couple nice finishes around the tin, especially a nice off hand flip high off the glass over Jon Leuer. Tim also had two nice drives, one resulting in a double-clutch layup at the end of the shot clock, while the other resulting in a mid-air pass between two defenders for an Andrew Jones dunk.
The two plays that really put it away for PSU on the offensive end down the stretch, IMO, were Jeff Brooks’ trey right in the face of Leuer, and Battle’s drive and dish to Jones for a layup with 1:15 remaining (extended the lead to 6).
Wisconsin was struggling on offense in the 2nd half, as well. I was disappointed with how little credit Bo Ryan gave the PSU defense, pretty much saying the Badgers missed some easy shots. Mike Bruesewitz missed a couple jumpers and Jordan Taylor missed a contested layup near the end of the game (that would’ve cut a 48-44 PSU lead to 2), but the Nittany Lions did a great job of closing down the interior and forcing Wisconsin into difficult jumpers. Jon Leuer went 0-4 from 3, but I didn’t think he got any particularly easy looks. Before the desperation heaves started, Wisconsin was 6-20 from the field in the 2nd half, they finished 9-28 (32.1%). PSU was 12-19 (63.2%) and Talor Battle scored 20 of his 22 points in the period. Wisconsin only shot 3 foul shots for the game, which symbolized their inability to get it inside against PSU’s changing zone/man looks on defense. It was nice to see Talor have one of his best defensive performances of his career, shutting down Taylor in the second half (only 4 points) after he torched the Lions last year at the Kohl Center.
The Lions sit now at 5-4, tied for fourth in the conference. They only have two remaining games against the clear top 3 of the conference (@ Wisky, OSU). They still have yet to face Minnesota, a team who has looked vulnerable without Al Nolen (who is now out for the year), and Northwestern, a team PSU seems to own. They have two road trips to Illinois and Michigan State (two arenas these guys have won in before), along with a remaining home game against Michigan. The Lions have to keep winning to stay in the hunt. The main concerns about the Lions’ resume are the lack of OOC quality wins and road wins. Clearly the OOC is in the past, but PSU will get some benefit of the doubt for having a respectable SOS (especially since everyone on the bubble is going to have holes in their profiles). Remember, PSU was punished in 2008-2009 not for not beating anybody in the OOC, but for SCHEDULING nobody in the OOC. And as far as road wins, if PSU gets to 10-8, they’ll have won at least one road game, possibly 2 (unless they beat potential 1-seed OSU). That likely won’t be a problem if PSU wins as much as they should to have earned a bid.
Bottomline is, this team has a legit chance, but it’s silly to throw out set win totals just yet. It totally depends on the bubble, which will be in fluctuation until Selection Sunday. Who knows how many of the now 37 at-large bids will be available. The number changes drastically during Championship week. Just please don’t think that if this team finished 16-13 or 17-12, they wouldn’t be in the conversation. Your total W-L record means absolutely nothing.