Some might call it "surviving and advancing," but I'll call Penn State's 61-55 win against Indiana Thursday night in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament what it was: ugly basketball.
The Nittany Lions came out like gangbusters, grabbing an 8-0 lead shortly after the game tipped off. From there, though, things were hardly inspiring for a squad that is supposedly fighting for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth as 3-15 Indiana hung right in until the end of the game.
David Jackson was forced from the contest with two fouls early on and Tim Frazier wasn't far behind him, leaving late in the first half with three fouls and not returning until a few minutes into the second half. Talor Battle had an uncharacteristically off game and Jeff Brooks looked lost throughout the for stretches, especially early, as well. The pair combined to go 2-11 from the field in the opening period.
Brooks rebounded after the break to lead Penn State in scoring and rebounding with 15 points and seven boards. Battle played a little better, too, finishing with 13 points on the evening. Joining that pair in double figures was center Andrew Jones, who might have had the most solid night of any Lion with 12 points and seven rebounds.
It's all little consolation, however, as the competition gets ramped way up Friday when Penn State takes on third-seeded Wisconsin at roughly 9 P.M. in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Penn State's going to have to look better against the Badgers than it did against the Hoosiers to have a chance.
- Andrew Jones really picked up the slack for his fellow seniors. Consistency has been a problem for him this season, but he always seems to step up when the team needs him most as it did against Michigan State and Illinois earlier this season. If he plays that way against Wisconsin, it'll be a big boost for the team.
Jermaine Marshall was kind of quiet in the second half, but his seven points off the bench in the first kept Penn State within one possession even at its worst moments in the game. As he did against Minnesota, he showed how even modest contributions from reserves can make a difference in Penn State's fortunes. It'd have been nice to see more consistency from him during the regular season, but better late than never I suppose.
- Lots of good signs on defense in this one. Not only did Penn State limit a pretty good 3-point shooting team to a 4-18 performance, it held the Hoosiers, who average 70 points per game, to a meager 55. The offensive performance was hard to watch at times, but the defensive intensity was there all night, and it might be the reason the Lions are still alive.
- Penn State earned a 28-19 advantage on the boards. They'll need to keep the solid rebounding up against Wisconsin to have a chance.
- Indiana, the worst team in the league record-wise, earned an 18-7 edge in bench scoring. Beyond Marshall, Penn State got absolutely nothing from the cast of Billy Oliver, Tre Bowman and Cammeron Woodyard. Those guys had one task Thursday evening and that was to give the starters a chance to rest with a game in less than 24 hours and they failed miserably.
- Once again, Penn State got off to a slow start and was forced to scratch and fight for the rest of the game because of it. The early lead was great, but a rash of turnovers in the first half undid all that good and put the team behind the eight ball. That has to change if Penn State is going to do anything this postseason in whichever tournament it ends up in.
- As the season goes along, it seems like David Jackson is taking himself off the floor with dumb fouls more and more often. Penn State needs his jumper on the floor to keep defenses honest in guarding Talor Battle. Even if he's not scoring, the Lions can't afford to have him sitting on the bench over a couple of reach ins. He has to be smarter against Wisconsin.
- Penn State finished 11-20 from the foul line. The Lions have been pretty solid at the stripe all season but that's a deplorable performance.
- During the game, Indiana partisans railed about the lack of fouls called on Penn State in the second half. Please. The tacky foul calls on Jackson and Frazier kept their team in the game to begin with, so while they might be right in saying it's a joke more fouls weren't called on Penn State in the second, blaming that for losing the game is comical.
- It was a disastrous day on the bubble for Penn State. Literally every bubble team save for UAB survived early round challenges. If a win against Wisconsin is going to get Penn State in, other teams have to start losing and fast.