When Penn State took on Duquesne on Saturday, it was supposed to be about bouncing back after a deflating loss to Maryland on Wednesday night.
Instead, the Nittany Lions were forced to overcome some key injuries and a pesky Dukes offense before prevailing 77-73 on Saturday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Penn State lost David Jackson in the first half and Billy Oliver in the second half to injuries. Jackson needed to be taken to a hospital and is now wearing a neck brace while Oliver stayed on the Penn State bench for much of the second half. Coach Ed DeChellis does not expect either to play in Tuesday night's game against Mount St. Mary's at the BJC and isn't sure if they'll see time in Penn State's key matchup against Virginia Tech next weekend.
Talor Battle came up big in their absence, finishing with 32 points, one short of his career high, eight rebounds and four assists. Jeff Brooks chipped in 17 points and seven boards of his own to get back on track after being held to just six points against Maryland the other night.
All things considered, it was a pretty important win for Penn State, not only keeping the Lions from falling into a losing streak, but overcoming some adversity to win for the first time this season. And with what will likely be a thin lineup on Tuesday, too, they might have to do it again, so it's probably good news that they have this one under their belts.
- While his point total was pretty gaudy, Battle certainly didn't get it easily. The Dukes harassed the senior all day, throwing presses and half court traps at him from every conceivable angle which led to three turnovers. He came through the test with flying colors, though, carrying the Lions on 12-18 shooting, including 5-8 from deep. If the NBA scouts out there had been looking for a signature game from Battle, he delivered on Saturday.
Tim Frazier and Andrew Jones were great complements to Brooks and Battle. Jones grabbed nine rebounds and added eight points while Frazier had seven points, four rebounds and two assists. With Jackson and Oliver missing, it was important for both to play a little bit better and they did, finishing above their season averages in a lot of areas.
- Tre Bowman looked great in his first significant minutes of the season. The freshman scored six points and grabbed two rebounds and dished an assist off the bench in addition to helping Penn State deal with Duquesne's press in the second half. We still haven't seen his ballyhooed range, but this was a step in the right direction for a guy who has been otherwise invisible for much of the season.
- The Nittany Lions attempted six less shots than they did against Maryland the other night but scored almost double the points. Credit that to a 55.9% shooting effort, one in contrast to the 20.6% performance against Maryland. As DeChellis said after the game "We just made shots. That's what makes [the Maryland game] so frustrating."
- The Dukes rained threes on Penn State, connecting on 14-31. The Dukes are a solid three point shooting team, but nights like Saturday night should not happen for Penn State. The Lions simply need to guard the perimeter better than they have in the last few games, save for the Maryland game when they did clamp down on the Terps from deep. Penn State got picked to death up top and looked sloppy rotating at times. For as good as they've looked inside much of the season, the perimeter defense must improve.
- It was a shoddy 16-31 day for Penn State from the free throw line against Duquesne. The Lions actually deserve a little credit for improvement in the department this season as they entered second in the Big Ten at 76%, however, converting a few more freebies would have kept this one from being as tense as it was at times in the second half with the Dukes just bombing Penn State from deep.
- The Lions turned the ball over 14 times including a bunch in the first half. A lot of it had to do with Duquesne's press, too. Once Penn State went to a three guard lineup in the second half, things looked a lot less shaky, but the Lions will need to work on becoming smoother in breaking the press with the traditional three bigs in league play if they expect opponents to lay off them on made baskets.
- Obviously, the injuries are really bad news for Penn State. Jackson is one of the team's few consistent scorers and Oliver, spotty as he has been this season, still offers length Penn State needs badly. Without the pair for Mount St. Mary's Penn State will be forced to play with only three true forwards from their regular rotation: Brooks, Jones and walk-on Steve Kirkpatrick.
- The injuries themselves were pretty scary. When Oliver went down, it looked like Brooks might have been banged up even worse at first as he went head over heals over Oliver and Duquesne's B.J. Monteiro while trying to block a shot. Best wishes to all the guys who got roughed up today.