Only a week ago, Penn State was reeling from the results of a disastrous stretch of rebounding. The Nittany Lions had lost four of five games and found themselves in a 1-2 hole to open conference play partially attributable to lackluster performances on the glass.
In that five game stretch, opponents out rebounded Penn State at a 166-143 clip. The worst performance came against Purdue on Jan. 5 when the Boilermakers out worked the Lions on the board 46-31 and cruised to a blowout win at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Following that game, however, Penn State has gone on to grab some headline catching wins against then-No. 19
Purdue Michigan State (ed. - whoops) and No. 16 Illinois, thanks in large part to how the team has rebounded.
In the Michigan State upset, the Lions worked Sparty on the boards to the tune of 40-36 overall and 14-10 on the offensive glass despite entering the game averaging more than 11 rebounds less than their opponent. Michigan State was held to 62 points on the afternoon, well below its season average of around 73 points per game.
"Every game that we've done a great job of rebounding, we've won those games," Jeff Brooks said following the Michigan State upset. "When we played Purdue, they beat us by 15 on the boards and we lost by 15 points. It's all in correlation with each other."
The stats bear that assessment out, too. Penn State has out rebounded opponents in eight of its 10 wins. Among its six losses, however, the Lions won the rebounding battle only once on Jan. 2 against Michigan.
Penn State continued its success on the glass against Illinois on Tuesday, earning a 33-27 edge overall in the rebounding department and a 10-4 margin on the offensive boards. The exclamation point on Penn State's effort came in the form of the game-winning play as Andrew Jones rebounded a Talor Battle miss and slammed it home with .7 seconds remaining in the game.
Though the Fighting Illini entered the game averaging 77 points per game and coming off an 81% shooting performance in the first half against Northwestern in its previous game, they left with only 55 points on the evening, allowing an offensively challenged Lion squad to earn its second consecutive upset of a ranked opponent.
Coach Ed DeChellis said after the game that he thought rebounding was important in the win, especially keeping Illinois off the offensive boards.
"We didn't give them any second shots, that was key for us," DeChellis said. "They had four offensive rebounds the whole night. You've got to keep them off the glass. You can't give them second opportunities.
Penn State now faces perhaps its toughest rebounding challenge yet, however, when the team travels to face No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday. Not only do the Buckeyes boast a rebounding average about three points higher than the Lions, they'll have freshman sensation Jared Sullinger, averaging over 10 rebounds per game, lurking in the middle.
DeChellis sees the trip as a chance to build some more momentum, however.
"We've got a great challenge on Saturday afternoon at Ohio State," DeChellis said. "We've beaten two ranked teams back-to-back and we've got another opportunity on Saturday."