Every home game, before Penn State takes the floor at the Bryce Jordan Center, the production folks run an intro video with highlights set to Jay-Z's "Run This Town." In case you're not familiar with the lyrics, here's the refrain.
Life's a game but it's not fair/I break the rules so I don't care/so I keep doing my own thing, walking tall against the rain
Victory's within the mile/almost there don't give up now/only thing that's on my mind/is how we gon run this town tonight"
After trailing by double digits in the first half of their game at Purdue Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions (10-8, 3-4) made a valiant comeback to take the lead a few different times down the stretch, the last coming with under a minute remaining. It survived until the final 3.4 seconds of the game when Purdue's superstar forward JaJuan Johnson calmly knocked down a jumper from the corner, to put Purdue up one with only those precious seconds on the clock. Penn State's final heave was intercepted at halfcourt,and the Lions fell short of their third upset in four chances, 63-62.
Before the final dagger, Penn State thought it had Purdue stopped when a bobble by the Boilermakers' E'Twaun Moore appeared to bounce out of bounds of a Purdue. The ball was called off the Lions' Tim Frazier however, and the Boilers retained posession, setting them up for the last clutch play.
Some would argue the final seconds of Penn State's loss weren't fair, and that the refs blew the call that would have otherwise led to a Penn State win and upset of the nation's No. 13 ranked team.
The Lions have already defied the odds to put themselves in the position they're in with 11 games remaining. They may have gotten a few of the lucky bounces to go their way in upsets of then No. 19 Michigan State and then-No. 16 Illinois. Now, against Ohio State and Purdue, they've gone the other way. That's just the way the game of basketball goes sometimes.
Ultimately, Penn State's goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament is still within reach. It might be a long shot, but all these players have ever hoped for was a chance to make a run at March Madness. They'll get that chance in this final month and change of the season. Now is not the time to pack it in. At 10-8, Penn State now needs to make some real hay as it enters an easier portion of its schedule, starting with a home tilt against Iowa next Wednesday, but after losing to Maine at home in December, few thought a 3-4 start to Big Ten play was possible with five games against ranked teams. Who's to say this can't be done?
- Penn State responded to being outrebounded by 15 at home against Purdue two weeks ago by working the Boilers by 11 (30-19) on the boards Wednesday night. Many Lion players got in on the act, as Jeff Brooks had eight, Talor Battle had six, David Jackson had five and Andrew Jones had four. It was a great team rebounding effort.
- The Lions shot 52% for the evening, including 37.5% from the 3-point line, following another good shooting performance against Ohio State. If the Lions keep those numbers up, they're going to win games more often than not.
- After watching a couple of Purdue's role players go off in the first matchup at the Jordan Center, Penn State did a good job of limiting supplementary scoring in the game. While Johnson and Moore got their points (36 combined points) no other Boilermaker had more than six. It was a step in the right direction, team defense-wise.
- The scoring distribution for Penn State was again much more reasonable than it had been at points earlier in the conference season. Brooks (19) Battle (14) and Jackson (13) all broke into double figures as usual, but Jones and Frazier stepped up for eight each. That was a big boost.
- The assist-to-turnover ration is one of the best stats in basketball, and it was decidedly against Penn State Wednesday night, 6.0-1.2. A good number to have is about two. The Lions' 13 turnovers weren't damning in and of themselves, but the lack of forced turnovers on the defensive end compounded the problems cause by the sloppiness on offense, allowing the Boilers to get up eight more shot attempts and stave off Penn State for a one point win.
- The bench registered one shot on the night, scored no points and grabbed no rebounds. Penn State's starting five is pretty good, but not good enough to contend with a team as deep as Purdue for 40 minutes without some help. The bench just didn't get it done.
- Penn State was perfect (8-8) from the free throw line, but probably should have been there a few more times. Instead, the Lions had to settle for only eight makes from the stripe, probably putting a dent in their upset chances.
- The coaching staff has already taken some arrows in some spheres for its call on the final play to chuck the ball to half court and try to advance it from there. Look, with 3.4 seconds, there are no good options. The coaches elected to take a shot at getting the ball as close to the bucket as possible for the highest percentage shot possible. You can't fault them for that. Sure, they could have gone the safe route and spent a couple seconds making sure the ball got in bounds safely, but at that point they're basically conceding to taking a half court heave at the buzzer. Instead, they went for a more reasonable shot. That it didn't work is far more about execution than strategy.
- A lot of criticism also came in during the game for the staff's decision to play a 2-3 zone, deploying three players to cover the lane while two guarded the perimeter. It's important to keep in mind that Johnson still ended up scoring 25 points on the evening, even with the extra muscle inside. Pulling a defender out of the middle could have done even more harm the way he played Wednesday night.
- The last blown call was a real let down, but there was no reason for Johnson to get free off the inbounds on Purdue's final play.