With a young team like Penn State playing in its first true road test of the season, it's a safe bet the coaching staff was sweating it out the last few days. How would their squad perform in a foreign environment against a team that holds a .908 home winning percentage?
They responded with the emphatic grit we grew accustomed to with last year's team that faced similar struggles. The Lions faced plenty of adversity in the Kohl Center, playing from behind for the entire second half, but they never stopped giving their never-say-die effort. The 18-point underdogs were able to close the gap to just 1 point with a little over 3 minutes left before ultimately falling short.
Credit to Wisconsin, mainly Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren, for making the plays down the stretch to finish off a worn-down Penn State. But once again, despite the offensive struggles and mind-numbing turnovers, this team continued to be a joy to watch fight. While there is no such thing as a 'moral loss' in the lockerroom, they can exist in our living rooms, and it's hard to not at least be encouraged by the toughness shown by PSU on the road.
It was a strange game that saw multiple highlight reel dunks from both sides, but also some oddities not usually witnessed at the Kohl Center. The Badgers had a dreadful night shooting the ball and were unable to take advantage of PSU's aggression on defense, shooting just 3-17 from behind the arc. They also struggled mightily to take advantage of the foul discrepancy by converting only 50% of their foul shots.
Penn State relied heavily on Jermaine Marshall (19 points) and DJ Newbill (12 points, 8 rebounds) for much of the game, and they delivered about as well as you could expect. Brandon Taylor (8 points) finally broke free for a few big three-pointers in the 2nd half that also helped cut into the Badger lead.
The Lions couldn't get as much from their frontcourt as they have in the past couple games. Borovnjak did have a few quality finishes off the pick-and-roll, but for the most part was over-matched against Berggren, as evidenced by the massive posterization that ended the game. Jon Graham didn't have much of an effect either in his 15 minutes as he's still unable to match his skill to his new-found athleticism this year. Donovon Jack only logged 8 minutes in his first Big Ten action.
The most peculiar stat of the night belongs to Penn State's 1 free throw attempt for the game. This wouldn't have been a complete surprise before the game, since the Lions easily have settled for jump shots in the past. But that was not the case tonight as they were more aggressive against the Badgers, shooting a season-low 8 3PA. DJ Newbill, owner of a 58.9 FTR, attempted 15 two-pointers and didn't draw single foul on any of those shots.
Looking ahead, the Lions get to welcome the esteemed Indiana Hoosiers to State College in their conference home-opener on Monday. Don't think they'll back down from them either. For now, enjoy DJ Newbill's welcome to the Big Ten. You might have seen him on Sportscenter's Top-10 tonight.