You won't see many shooting performances like Bucknell had tonight as they downed Penn State in the Bryce Jordan Center, 90-80. The Bison were connecting on shots at an astounding rate for much of the game, matching last season's D-1-wide single-game high 83.3% eFG% until late in the game, when the contest was already in hand. Sure, the defense could have been much better, and the adjustments Pat Chambers made at halftime were ineffective at best, but make no mistake - this was more of a fluke than an indictment of the Nittany Lions' defense.
The first half was a really good time, at least. Both teams were over 50% shooting and excelling in complementing categories; the Lions turned it over just once, compared to the Bison's five turnovers, while Bucknell held a five-rebound advantage over the first 20 minutes. You'd have expected both teams to cool down in the second half, but only the home team regressed to what is considered an accepted "mean"; the visitors took the mean out behind the woodshed. Cameron Ayers and Ben Brackney were a combined 9-11 from beyond the arc, but Steven Kaspar was the most impressive player on the floor. The junior guard went 9-13 from the floor, taking advantage of the space provided by the shooters. The Bison shot 61% (28-46) from the floor and 10-15 from deep. Ye gods.
Coming into the season it was evident Penn State had problems to fix. The offense was lackluster at best in 2012-13, and the defense wasn't much better. Two games into this season and it appears the Nittany Lions have one problem fixed - the shots are falling. PSU went 9-22 from three, their second time over the 38% mark in as many games. Boss Travis showed up and made his 10th career three-pointer en route to 17 points before fouling out. D.J. Newbill led his team with 18, and his accuracy from range (3-5 tonight) early in the season is a great sign for the Nittany Lions. Again, lot of good things going offensively.
The rebounding numbers look off on the face (Bucknell was +7 on the defensive glass), but with the Bison making so many of their shots, getting boards wasn't that much of an issue for Penn State. At least it wasn't the reason they lost the game.
Four Factors Analysis
Bucknell put on a clinic of flawless offensive execution, taking every advantage Penn State gave them with their own blunders. It began with Steven Kasper who constantly showed up his PSU counterparts by penetrating the lane over and over again. When the Lions' bigs would hedge, the team defense couldn't recover and stop the perimeter bombardment. But no one could stop Kasper one on one either, and the Bison offense looked primed for March Madness. The 71.7% eFG% posted by the Bison was the highest mark against PSU under Pat Chambers.
Offensively for the Lions, everything looks swell. The shooting was still highly efficient from everywhere but the foul line (and the front of the rim apparently for Donovon Jack). But the indicative statistic here is the foul rate. The Lions frontcourt continued to pick up poor fouls, while the penetrating Bison guards continued to attack. For Penn State to give up more free throws against a guard-oriented opponent is troubling, to say the least.
Player of the Game
If this is exclusively for Penn State players, then the choice is Brandon Taylor. The sophomore loves playing against Bucknell, apparently. He topped his 16-point performance a season ago with 17 tonight, on 7-9 shooting. Unlike last season, he did most of his damage on the inside, both on the block and in catch-and-shoot situations. BT started out well last season too, though, so waiting a few games before we anoint him might be a wise decision.
- Adjustments - I said in the IGT at halftime that this was a game in which to judge Chambers' strategic abilities, but I'm not sure that's completely fair looking back. That might be the best shooting performance an opponent has all season against Penn State. No matter what Pat threw at Kaspar, Ayers and Brackman was emphatically shrugged off by the trio. If you're of the opinion that since everything he tried didn't work his gameplans suck, well, I guess that's fair. But just know that Penn State wins this game if Bucknell shoots closer to the 50% mark.
- Timmy Watch - Tim Frazier played well overall, though he would probably disagree. 13 points and seven assists isn't a bad night for anybody, but between his five turnovers and four fouls that kept him off the defensive end in favor of Geno Thorpe for the last eight or so minutes, this wasn't a vintage Frazier game.
- Freshmen - Speaking of Thorpe, he was the more impressive of the freshmen this evening. The Shaler kid tallied four points and played as good on defense as anyone in a Penn State uniform (though that's not saying a ton). Graham Woodward struggled to provide a spark off the bench, recording a solitary point and missing all three of his long-range attempts.
- No TOs - Ball security continues to be a strength for Penn State. Only seven turnovers tonight, one worse than the six they committed against Wagner. That's with Frazier missing a lot more of the second half than he normally would.
- Officiating - The new hand-check rules have the college basketball world all atwitter, but it didn't seem like tonight's officials called an inordinate amount of ticky-tacky fouls on the perimeter.
- Fiur Chambres! - As friend of the blog Ryan Jones pointed out, one loss does not a season make. Put the pitchforks away for now.
The Lions now head to Philadelphia this Saturday to face the Penn Quakers in the Palestra. It is the return trip from a home-and-home series that PSU kicked off last year with a 58-47 win. Jerome Allen's team wasn't able to pull the upset over Temple, but did beat Monmouth this week. More on the Quakers later this week.
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