It wasn't pretty, nor should it have been, really. It is the first game of the year after all, but Penn State got the win versus an annoying Wagner team that just wouldn't go away. The Lions went wire-to-wire, but they were never able to hold a lead larger than 14 points.
As it was said in the preview, this matchup boiled down to guard play. Both teams often had 3 and 4-guard lineups on the floor competing against another. The Lions duo proved to be too much for the Seahawk backcourt as Tim Frazier and DJ Newbill combined for 43 points (with 26 FTA), 21 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Wagner had a horrendous time shooting the ball from the perimeter all game, finishing just 2 for 23 (9%) from behind the arc. Their two playmakers, Kenneth Ortiz and Latif Rivers, struggled to get on track, and while they did combined for 32 points, they took 26 shots to get that total. Valparaiso transfer Jay Harris had a very tough debut for the Seahawks with just 5 points in 36 minutes on 1-8, 0-6 shooting. Wagner's woes seemed to result from a combination of great defense by the Lions and some poor shooting from the Seahawks.
The Lions went to the half up a comfortable 12 points, but the lead felt like it should have been larger considering Wagner's terrible efficiency numbers. Since they were still within striking distance, of course the Seahawks made a run coming out of the break, quickly cutting the lead down to 3 in just over three minutes. However, Penn State was able to steady itself as Tim Frazier got on track with four made field goals in a row at one point, and the game never seemed to be in doubt again.
Four Factors Analysis
Neither team had issues losing the ball (credit new hand-checking rules?) while the rebounding numbers turned out to be about even, although PSU held a significant advantage earlier in the game. Overall, Penn State put up some strong defensive stats that were aided by Wagner missing ill-advised shots. Head coach Bashir Mason couldn't have been pleased with some of the decisions his upperclassmen were making on the floor.
The Lions won this game with their 3-point shooting (6-16, 37.5% vs. 2-23, 8.7%) and their ability to earn ample opportunities at the foul line. Penn St actually shot at a better clip from behind 20'9" than inside the arc (37.5% on 3's, 35.1% on 2's). That might not be so ideal in other games, but the Lions were able to get the job done this afternoon with the 3-ball.
Player of the Game
Without a doubt, this honor has to go to Tim Frazier for a very strong second half performance that led to a 25-point, 10-rebound, and 4-assist effort in his first real game back from the achilles injury. Tim started out slow from the foul line, but hit his last 7 attempts to go 12-17 from the stripe on the afternoon. Wagner was unable to keep Tim from penetrating their defense, and he was able to showcase his array of weapons in the lane.
DJ Newbill is the runner-up candidate for a quality performance of 18 points, 11 rebounds and 2 assists.
- New Rules - 51 fouls were called and 70 combined free throws were attempted. That number is not inflated by end-of-game fouling by the Seahawks. The game did seem to drag on in the second half, but overall the officiating did not bother me at all.
- Frontcourt Play - Brandon Taylor had a solid performance with 9 points (2-5 3PA) and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes. Donovon Jack was also active on the floor in his minutes, but really struggled finishing around the rim (0-5 FGA), which is what PSU sorely needs from him. Ross Travis struggled in the halfcourt but played great defense and created some transition opportunities for himself.
- Backcourt Rebouding - The Nittany Lions guards corralled 29 of PSU's 47 total rebounds on the afternoon. Many might suggest that's a damning indication on PSU's lack of size up front, but the reality is some of these guards are just special rebounders, particularly Frazier and Newbill. They didn't leave any for the Big Ten's 2nd leading rebounder, Ross Travis, who only came down with 2.
- Rotation - For a team with heralded depth, only 23% of the minutes went to the reserves. The rotation went 9-deep and three of those bench players didn't even reach 10 minutes. Allen Roberts was the only reserve that saw extended run. After suggesting the Lions wouldn't have to run Newbill and Frazier ragged this year, Chambers kept Frazier in for 39 minutes and Newbill in for 36.
- Freshmen - Graham Woodward and Geno Thorpe both made favorable plays in their short time on the floor. Julian Moore and Payton Banks seemed to be DNP-CD. Interesting considering the lack of bodies in the frontcourt and some of the foul trouble that was experienced during the game when Taylor, Jack, and Travis all had collected 3 fouls early in the second period.
Next game for the Nittany Lions is this Wednesday against Bucknell, who will be returning to the BJC once again. The Bison have lost a lot from last year's NCAA tournament team, but gave Stanford all they could handle opening night in a 72-68 losing effort.