It's been exactly two weeks since then-No. 10 Purdue crushed Penn State 83-68 at the Bryce Jordan Center on Jan. 5, but the Nittany Lions' play of late has made that seem like an eternity ago. Following that loss, Penn State upset then No. 19 Michigan State, then No. 16
Purdue Illinois (ed. I figure if I say it enough, it might happen) and nearly beat No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday.
Wednesday night, Penn State faces now No. 13 Purdue once again, this time in West Lafayette, Ind. with the Lions looking to play the Boilermakers as tough as did the Spartans, Fighting Illini and Buckeyes. The game will be broadcast at 8:30 P.M. on the Big Ten Network.
Purdue is on a bit of a cold streak at the moment. The Boilers suffered their first conference loss of the season at Minnesota last Thursday and were then upset in Morgantown by West Virginia on Sunday. Star guard E'Twaun Moore has struggled a bit. He only averaged nine points per game in those two losses, off from a 17.7 season average. Forward JaJuan Johnson has been on fire, however. The senior averaged 27.5 points in the two losses and has really carried Purdue's scoring.
This game will be Penn State's last in a run of five straight matchups against top-25 opponents. Penn State is an impressive 2-2 so far, but if the Lions want to make a serious push for the NCAA Tournament, 3-2 would look very, very good to the selection committee in a stretch this difficult.
Keys to the game are after the jump.
When Penn State Has The Ball
Jermaine Marshall shocked everyone by scoring a career high 18 points against Purdue earlier in the month. He's cooled off a bit since then, but getting another crack at a Purdue team he lit up has to have him excited. Look for Penn State to try and get him involved in the offense against the Boilers again.
- Penn State should look to attack Johnson inside. That might seem a little nuts given the forward averages over two blocks per game, but if the Lions can get him into foul trouble, that could help establish some serious momentum on the road.
- It's important that Penn State avoid droughts in a venue like Mackey Arena. It's one of the toughest places to play in the league right now, and if Penn State starts trailing by double digits, it's going to be hard to grab momentum back in that environment. The Lions need to do what they did in Columbus: Establish a lead or at least keep the game within six or eight points for as long as possible to allow for a run at the end of the game.
When Purdue Has The Ball
- The Lions have to get a hand in Ryne Smith's face this time. The guard torched Penn State for 20 points on 5-5 shooting from 3-point territory in the last game. He's a supplementary scorer for Purdue and can't be allowed to post another night like that, or Penn State's goose is cooked. Guarding Johnson and Moore while worrying about the Boilers' other threats might be difficult, but Penn State must keep Smith and guys like Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow contained to have a chance.
- With that said, Penn State needs to keep up the good defense on Moore. In the last matchup, the Lions held him to four points after locking down on him for nine points last spring. If Penn State can continue to d-up well on him, it bodes very well for keeping the score in the 60s where Penn State is most comfortable.
- If Penn State defenders are going to foul Moore, they've got to foul him hard. The Lions gave up two straight and-one plays to Jared Sullinger on Saturday to close the game at Ohio State. That's killer. Johnson is an excellent free throw shooter for a big man, hitting at 78% for the season, but forcing him to shoot two free throws is always better than giving up a bucket and the opportunity for a 3-point play at the foul line.
- Rebounding is as key in this game as it might be all season. Penn State was out rebounded by 15 in the first matchup. If the Lions can make a dent in that Wednesday evening, it's very good news and should keep the game competitive. It's easier said than done, though, with a monster like Moore gobbling things up left and right in the lane.
If this game were being played on a neutral court or back at the BJC, you'd have to like Penn State's chances considering the way things have gone for the team lately. It's going to be tough to overcome Purdue on its turf, though, without even considering the Boilers will be very hungry for a win after dropping their last two games. Of Penn State's remaining games, this might be the toughest. That even includes Ohio State at home at the end of the year.