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Penn State Spanks Spartans

Michigan State 76
Penn State 85

Believe it! Here is the Boxscore

Yesterday afternoon I watched Iowa pull off the 53-48 upset over Ohio State. And as I watched the game tick down I wondered why Penn State never seems to beat superior competition. It was Iowa's second major upset in a month. Penn State hasn't had an upset like that in two years. I wondered why we couldn't get lucky once in a while and pull off an improbable upset like that. Enter the Spartans stage left.

So exactly how did this young Penn State team on a six game losing streak pull off the improbable upset over the #8 team in the country? There were a few factors in play.

Fantastic Guard Play

Stanley Pringle and Talor Battle were sensational. Pringle scored 19 points while Battle dropped in 17. But their contribution went beyond that. Pringle led the team in rebounds with 6. Battle led the team with 4 assists. The pair combined for three steals and only five turnovers. But their biggest contribution came on the defensive end. The MSU guards could not get open. Drew Neitzel was held to just 6 points on 2-of-10 shooting.

Morrissey and Walker came off the bench to keep the offense going. Walker scored 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting. Morrissey only had three points, but he provided a ton of inspiration. On one play late in the second half the Spartan's big man was going up for what looked like an easy dunk. Morrissey charged down the baseline and jumped to meet him. He put a hand on the ball and rejected the dunk, but he was called for a foul because his other hand was on the jersey. It was a foul against Penn State, but the extra effort energized the team and the fans and propelled them down the stretch.

Good Foul Shooting

It was terrible in the early going. That's mostly because Jamelle Cornley was getting the bulk of the foul shots. Mel was a terrible 5-of-12 from the line. But the rest of the team was 29-of-39. The poor foul shooting is no longer a team wide plague. DJ was 9-of-11 scoring all of his points from the line. Pringle hit all eight of his shots. Battle hit 4-of-6. Walker hit both his attempts. So hopefully we've turned the corner on that. Kudos go to Ed for in game coaching. Down the stretch as the clock was stopping on each possession he was able to work the substitutions to get Cornley in on defense and Walker in on offense to take advantage of the strengths of each player. All of Penn State's final 20 points came from the line.

Of course, it greatly helped that Penn State got to the line for a Big Ten record 51 attempts. Predictably the Spartans are whining about it, but I didn't think the officiating was that bad. Michigan State just played recklessly.  They were setting moving screens and holding all night to try to get their guards open. On defense they were reaching in and jumping over the back. They just didn't play like a disciplined team.

Limited Mistakes

The Lions played smart. They took care of the ball only committing 12 turnovers. They didn't commit stupid fouls. They were shaky from the line in the early part of the game, but when it came to crunch time they hit 16 of their last 20 attempts.

Great Crowd

Like most games they started off a little subdued. The students were great right off the bat but it just didn't sound very loud on television. The alumni finally became believers in the second half and the Bryce Jordan Center was rocking. As the seconds ticked down the only question was whether or not the fans would rush the court. Well...

There's your answer.

Final Analysis

Great game. Great, great game. It looked like everything was lost after Geary Claxton went down. It looked like the energy was sucked out of this team. But they kept playing hard, and this young group of players finally figured out how to play together. Suddenly there is hope again. If we can sneak out five more wins we should make the NIT. We have nine games to go plus the Big Ten Tournament. We have two games against Michigan and home games against Iowa and Illinois. That's four wins we have to have. Then we have to sneak another one somewhere. The lowest hanging fruit looks to be Minnesota at the Barn. The next lowest looks like Indiana only because that game is at home. One thing is for sure, this season suddenly became fun again.