There is a running joke on this tiny slice of the web concerning Penn State's basketball team. Its inception dates back to a few years ago, when Penn State was (okay, still is) a flying death trap which has but one reason for existing - to kill you, either by frustration or shame, even in victory. The physical embodiment of this death machine is a Flaming Bus. It is purposely called "a" Bus and not "the" Bus here, because there is a new Bus in town.
On Friday night, Penn State played what will likely (dear god, hopefully) be their worst game of the 2014-15 season. Cornell, KenPom's 295th-ranked team entering the game, led Penn State for 39 minutes and 59 seconds. The Big Red did things that most teams do against Penn State - they shot a great clip (5-11) from beyond the arc in the first half to set the tone and missed just one of their 22 free throws. Pat Chambers' Lions, as they have so often done, played without a pulse one minute and played with a cocaine-enhanced heart another. Bodies were littered everywhere, rotations were missed, and Cornell took advantage. Penn State's deficit was nine points at the half, and they sure as hell didn't look capable of being ten points better than Cornell in the second half.
And then, on the stroke of halftime -an omen:
A Fullington bus traveling from State College to Philadelphia caught fire on I-76. No injuries have been reported. pic.twitter.com/9Zo7OVUwza— Onward State (@OnwardState) November 22, 2014
The new Bus wasted no time. D.J. Newbill, who had yet another fantastic evening on the whole, found a loose Cornell pass in his own end and drove the length of the floor with a chance to give Penn State their first lead of the night. Now, there aren't many finishers in the country better than Newbill, but the Bus had other plans. Cornell's David Onuoruh chased him down and slammed Newbill's attempt into the glass. The ball ricocheted right to Devin Cherry, who naturally hit a circus layup and drew a foul in the process to give the Big Red a three-point lead with 42.9 seconds to play. A five point swing at a critical juncture went in favor of a team that won two (2) games last year. Cruelty is the Bus's specialty.
Cornell, being an excellent free-throw shooting team, did not falter from the stripe in those last 42.9 seconds. It took a Geno Thorpe putback and a miracle three from John Johnson to keep Penn State in the game, but only by the literal definition of that phrase. The play of the game may have come from Chambers, who saved Shep Garner from pulling a Chris Webber (upper right hand corner).
It saved Penn State from certain doom, and with 4.5 seconds left, Cornell threw a long inbounds pass from underneath their hoop to no one in particular. Garner picked up the ball and I can't really explain all the forces at play here, so just watch this instead:
Penn State wins, 72-71. I am so sorry, Cornell. There was nothing you could do. The Bus is dead. Long live the Bus.
Four Factors Analysis
The old saying is poppycock, because numbers sure as hell do lie. Penn State did not deserve to win this game, though the numbers tell a different story. The Nittany Lions' big advantage came on the glass, as it should have against an Ivy League opponent.
Player of the Game - D.J. Newbill
Chambers had every intent to give Penn State's all-B1G performer a breather on Friday night. Newbill exited the game for one minute before the first media timeout, by which point it was clear the rest of the Nittany Lions could not create any offense without him. D.J. played every minute after that, and his stellar performance - 26 points, six rebounds and four steals - illustrated his importance to this team. It's November, and it's already painfully apparent that next year's team will miss him dearly.
- 3.J. Newbill - Much like last year, Newbill has started the season with a red-hot hand from deep. He went 4-5 on Friday, tying a career-high for triples made. He's currently shooting 52% from three. It's difficult to see him keeping that up though, considering he shot just 32% in 2013-14 and is currently playing 92.4% of available minutes, by far the highest percentage on the team.
- Little big men - It's one thing to struggle against Charlotte's frontcourt. Mike Thorne is a talented, 6-11 true center, and Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack and Julian Moore had no answer for him on Thursday evening. But for that trio to produce one point, five rebounds, and one block in 31 combined minutes is nothing short of disastrous. If you're looking for a unit to blame, look no further. All three need to improve immensely for Penn State to have a sniff at any postseason bid.
- Flipp the script - John Johnson had a great game off the bench - 17 points, three rebounds, one assist and zero turnovers. Flipp has quietly had a big Charleston Classic, and it looks like he's much more composed with the ball in his hands, even if he does tend to hoist the occasional 25-footer. Remember, even though he is a senior, this is only his fourth semester of college basketball. There's still a lot of room for improvement.
Penn State will face USC on Sunday at 3:30 in the fifth-place game of the Charleston Classic. The young Trojans are themselves coming off a narrow escape against winless Drexel, and you can bet this game will be sloppy, tight, and Bus-y. Oh so Bus-y.