There was a certain degree of uncertainty surrounding this game for Penn State. The quick turnaround (which both teams had to endure) from the 3-games-in-4-days Charleston Classic left one wondering what you could realistically expect from a Penn State team that was already playing sluggish basketball. Especially against a respectable Akron club that finished 3rd in the same tourney without their best player.
The Zips were still without their best player (Demetrius Treadwell), but Penn State forgot to leave their early season woes in Charleston. It was more of the same from Chambers' club in the first period, including all of the mind-numbing defensive lapses and the stagnant offensive sets that were becoming far too common in South Carolina. The Zips took advantage of the Lions' embarrassingly weak defense, scoring at 1.33 PPP in the first half en route to a 13-point half-time lead, 45-32.
It almost seemed like another Bucknell affair for the Nittany Lions, although the Zips weren't quite lights out from 3 as the Bison were in last year's upset. Akron was just shredding Penn State's man defense, converting 70.6% of their 2-point attempts (12-17). Their 2-point prowess was not the work of quality ball movement, as only four assists were made on the Zips' 17 first half field goals. Penn State simply looked disinterested in guarding their man.
But credit Pat Chambers' half-time speech, because it was the Lions who came out supercharged in the second half, blitzing Akron with a 15-0 run. The Zips struggled to convert easy looks on their first couple of possessions and that's all Penn State needed to jump all over them. The defense began wreaking havoc on Akron, as Chambers mixed in zone and man looks, which catapulted into more transition opportunities (15 fastbreak points). The momentum even carried over to the Lions' half-court offense, as Penn State shared the ball probably the best they have all year in the second half.
Overall, the Lions avoided another disaster for the third straight game, but after playing their best 20 minutes of the year in the second half, there is a nice level of satisfaction to this one. To rebound as emphatically as they did in the second period, it was a performance I definitely didn't see coming.
Four Factors Analysis
It's crazy how the numbers always seem to even out in the end, ain't it? Penn State had a slight advantage on the glass for seemingly the first time in forever, but it was negated in the turnover department. The Lions were able to keep it simple and win by making more shots and getting to the foul line. They were aided by the Zips' foul woes in the 2nd half, after Akron put Penn State in the bonus with 11:43 still to play. The biggest difference statistically is PSU's worse shooting half wasn't as bad as Akron's worse shooting half. The Lions shot 40.0% eFG% at the break, while the Zips went ice cold in the second half (22.7% eFG%).
Player of the Game
You're going to be able to make a case for D.J. Newbill as Penn State's player of the game in every contest this year. Tonight was no different after his absurd statline (29 points on 12 shots, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) and this move:
But I'm going to share some love to Jordan Dickerson in this blurb. He had a fairly atrocious first half, once again looking lost on offense and not being effective on defense. But the big man came out in the second half and was a force to be reckoned with on defense. After Akron missed their first couple of freebies in the second period, Dickerson brought the block party after being credited with 4 blocks and 6 rebounds in just 16 minutes. He deserves the most credit for turning Akron's 70% 2-point shooting in the first half into the Zips' 20% brick-laying in the second period. Hard to imagine Penn State's defense turning it around without Dickerson's contributions.
- Newbill, tha Gawd - He is just unworldly. No one could have asked for a better start from the senior and suddenly Newbill is thrusting himself into the discussion of best Penn Stater of all-time. Clearly the rest of his senior year needs to play out first, but Newbill's already in the discussion. Big Ten Player of the Week snubs, be damned!
- B-Titty 3-Parade - Too many 3's tonight, bud. 11 3PA to 2 2PA is just absurd. He did make four of them, and they obviously were important to Penn State's success, but is this really what Chambers' wants out of his 6'7" junior, who supposedly was making a focus to go inside this year?
- Signs of life from Travis and DJack - Hard to argue that no one has struggled more these first two weeks of the season than Donovon Jack. He was quickly benched in the first half, only playing 6 minutes even with just one foul in the first period. But he did a great job spelling Dickerson in the 2nd half, helping keep Pat Forsythe in check while providing a few points on offense. Ross Travis also recovered from a humiliating rejection on a first-half dunk attempt to also provide some scoring in the 2nd half (6 points).
Next up for the Lions is their anticipated game against Bucknell at the Sojka Pavilion. It is the Lions' first trip to Bucknell since the 70s and their first true road game on the young season. We will have more on the Bison later this week, but the prospects are looking good for some Nittany Lions revenge on Black Friday after last year's embarrassing 90-80 loss.