Coming into this season, the biggest concern for every Penn State hoops fan was its frontcourt. It was a legitimate concern, especially its 4/5 combo of Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack. While both are nice players, neither exactly showed anything that made you go, "You know what? These guys are kind of awesome."
On Tuesday night against LaSalle, the two had the best games of their respective careers. Jack showed the improved range that Pat Chambers has been praising all summer, going 6 of 9 from the field and 4 of 6 from downtown en route to an 18 point, 4 rebound performance. Taylor was all over the court, going for 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Even Ross Travis had a big night, going for 13 points and 8 rebounds while shooting a very efficient 6 of 10 from the floor.
In fact, you can argue that Penn State's frontcourt overshadowed its backcourt. Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill went an Iversonian 10 of 27 combined -- Frazier put up 15 points and a season-high 11 assists, while Newbill had 15 points and 5 rebounds.
The two teams traded blows all game, but Penn State took the lead at the 10:34 mark of the second half and never looked back. You can argue that when you factor everything in -- offensive execution, defensive performance, quality of the opponent -- this was the most complete performance the Nittany Lions had all season.
Four Factors Analysis
Statistically speaking, this game was pretty even in all four factors, but the difference was the Nittany Lions' shooting, especially thanks to a great 3-point shooting display from Donovon Jack. The Lions made 3 more three's than the Explorers and that ultimately accounted for the 7-point victory.
1.09 PPP is still too high a number on defense, but the Explorers pack some punch on offense. The Lions did a much better job keeping Duren out of the lane this year, although they were burned by Steve Zack rolls to the hoop early and often in the first half. Chambers mixed in a few zone looks in the 2nd half that La Salle didn't have an answer for. The bottomline is PSU was able to get enough stops in the second half to pull off an important victory.
Player of the Game
It has to be Jack. He's not much-maligned, he's not maligned, he may not even be kinda-maligned, but he's one of the whipping boys whenever someone wants to be critical of this team. Tonight, he temporarily silenced all of the doubters, showing the ability to step back and knock down shots from all over the court on one end of the court while keeping LaSalle's Steve Zack relatively quiet on the other. While it's impractical to think that Donovon Jack will go for 18 points on 6 of 9 from the field and 4 of 6 shooting every night, it's something for the sophomore big man to build on.
- Guys Stepped Up... - While Frazier ended the night with 15 points, he didn't get to double-digits on the night until there was 3:24 left in the game. By that point, every starter was in double-digits. It was very reassuring to see everyone elevate their game while Frazier struggled to score.
- ...Just Not Bench Guys - Julian Moore, Allen Roberts, and Geno Thorpe were the only bench guys to get in. Roberts had 3 points, Moore and Thorpe had 0. The three combined for 1 of 6 shooting with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. In fact, Moore had a 3 trillion on the evening. The bench didn't need to step up tonight, but it still would've been nice for them to give Penn State something.
- This Team is Fun - This is the kind of basketball team that people who don't know anything about basketball would love. It's aggressive on both ends, puts up a ton of shots, looks to push the tempo, and is better on offense than it is on defense. Is that ideal? Probably not. Is it fun? You bet your ass it is.
The Nittany Lions host Longwood on Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center. It will be the Lancers' fifth game of the year: they started off their season losing to South Carolina, beat TCU, then beat something called Mars Hill. Longwood and star guard Tristan Carey host Brown on Friday night before the quick turnaround on Sunday afternoon. Also, I'll be one of like nine students left since it's a Thanksgiving Break game, so if you see a guy crying because he's lonely and friendless, come say hi!
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