We had seen this script play out many times before. Penn State earns big lead, coasts for most of the game, then blows it down the stretch. After building a quick 21-3 advantage, the Lions managed to maintain a comfortable 10-14-point cushion for most of the game.
But foul troubles led to reliance on freshmen, 83% foul shooting regressed towards the mean, and Delaware State was able to make just enough three-pointers to tie the game and force overtime. An 11-point lead with 3 minutes left had completely evaporated.
This team, lacking in depth and experience, had just imploded against an inferior opponent. Out of their four main scoring threats, one had fouled out (Travis), another was playing with four fouls (Newbill), and the other two were having off-days finishing shots (Taylor and Marshall). The extended minutes also seemed to take its toll as many foul shots came up short. Marshall, Taylor, Sasa Borovnjak, and Nick Colella all played a season-high in minutes.
However, this team showed some true grit down the stretch. They relinquished their lead for the first time all day in overtime, but they weren't deflated. Marshall finally got a big three to fall to tie the game, Newbill's patented hesitation dribble regained the lead, and true freshman Brandon Taylor calmly sank two big freebies to ice it.
It wouldn't have been possible without some key contributions from unlikely sources. Sasa Borovnjak earned his second straight start and had one of his best performances as a Penn Stater. His statline - 14 points (3-4 FG, 8-10 FTs), 8 rebounds, and 2 assists in 37 minutes. He made some big plays on both ends of the floor and was money when he got to the foul line (not bad for a 46% career foul shooter coming in). Penn State would've lost without his great play today.
Donovon Jack also had a breakout game of sorts, logging 12 minutes to score 8 big points, all coming in the second half. His first bucket came from a 17-foot, face-up jumper from the corner, but also was active around the tin. He made a strong case for playing time going forward, and Penn State could certainly use more bodies in the active rotation.
The Hornets were led by a pretty absurd performance from junior Casey Walker - 24 points and 11 rebounds. Walker's four first-half threes kept the Hornets in the game after Penn State's big early lead. Their leading scorer Tahj Tate struggled from the floor, making just 2 field goals. They also received timely contributions from Tyshawn Bell, none bigger than his game-tying three with 12 seconds to go in regulation.
For the game, Penn State's numbers were very good. They scored at an efficient rate of 1.1 pts/possession, while limiting turnovers (15.1% TO%) and getting to the foul line (58.5 free throw rate). But some untimely misses from true freshmen and a dreadful carry in the backcourt by Newbill opened the door for the Hornets.
Penn State is off for finals week before facing New Hampshire next Sunday at 11:00am. That tip time alone is cause for concern. We've seen enough pre-Christmas letdowns from this program, but things seem to be changing for the better around these parts. Today's comeback is indicative of that fact.
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