Oh, Penn State Basketball. It's hard to find the proper words to describe you. Sometimes you fill your fans with excitement and joy, sometimes you lull us to sleep. Sometimes you make us want to throw our remotes through the wall, and sometimes you make us frantically search "DJ Newbill NBA Draft Profile" on Google (or Bing, if you're weird) mid-game. At the very least, you always give us multiple feelings to feel throughout the course of a game, even if those feelings are sickness and dread.
Penn State only won this game by two points. The teams were as close as one point in the second half. Duquesne had the ball as the clock wound down, with a chance to win or tie. DJ Newbill scored only 11 points, and Brandon Taylor didn't score at all. Yet, despite all of this, the game never truly felt like it was slipping away. That was thanks to huge performances by Shep Garner and Donovon Jack, and an outstanding game from Geno Thorpe.
While this game may not have had the wow factor that Shep Garner's first game in a Penn State uniform had, this may have been his most complete performance as a college athlete. Garner ended the game with 13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block, and perhaps most importantly, 0 turnovers. For a team that has struggled with turning the ball over in the early going this year, having a point guard who can be trusted to hold onto the rock would be huge.
Donovon Jack also played a big role in today's win, even if he wasn't out on the court as much as he could have been. The man who almost was a Duke came in and provided a nice inside presence on the offensive end, going 3-4 from the floor, but also drilling 5 of his 6 free throws. Unfortunately, the most memorable moment from Jack may have been one that didn't count. He had just received a pass on the baseline with his back to the rim. He turned his head to the right, and unleashed a wicked spin move back to his left that gave him a wide open lane for a slam. However, the play never came to fruition thanks to an off-ball foul right after the spin move. If Jack start to employ moves like that into his repertoire, the Big Ten may be in for a surprise.
There will be more talk of Geno below, but suffice to say that Penn State doesn't win today's game without him. It was a dynamic performance from the young guard, and one that hopefully builds his confidence for the future. All in all, it was a very Penn State Basketbally performance. You would really like to see them develop more of a killer instinct and put games away when they can, because failing to do so in Big Ten play will result more often in losses than close wins, but it's hard to argue with the results to this point. The Lions are 9-1, and are slowly starting to figure things out and put pieces together. Finishing the non-conference schedule strong will be imperative to helping them gain confidence going into their Big Ten opener against Wisconsin on New Years Eve.
Four Factors Analysis
Hmm. How did Penn State win this game? Did they shoot the ball more efficiently? Nope, it wasn't that. It must have been Ross Travis and Jordan Dickerson outworking Duquesne on the offensive boards. What? No? Oh. Well, it had to have been turnovers then. Did DJ and Shep finally start to reduce the turnovers? Ah ha! That's it! Oh..wait, no, we weren't any better than they were. Well could the free throws really have made that much of a differ- oh. Duquesne, I think I found the problem, guys.
Anyone who watched the game knows it wasn't Penn State's strongest effort statistically, but when it came down to earning and converting free throws, they did just that. When your stars are off, that's what you have to do to win sometimes. Good on ya, boys.
Player of the Game - Geno Thorpe
Not only did Geno dominate the broadcast commentary, but our favorite sophomore guard was able to take over on the floor for a team that needed someone to look to for guidance on both ends. On a night when DJ Newbill couldn't hit the broadside of a barn until the second half, Geno Thorpe provided the much needed spark. He scored a career high 19 points to go with his four rebounds and countless hustle plays. He also provided one of his patented steal to fast break slams.
Best of all, Geno provided hope. We know what Penn State is capable of when DJ is at his best (just ask Ohio State). We know the offensive potential this team has when all of its scorers are clicking. What we didn't know was how the team would respond when its stars inevitably had an off night. Well, a combined 11 points between Newbill and Taylor definitely qualifies as one of those kinds of nights. While it wouldn't be fair to expect Geno (and Shep) to carry the load on those nights every time, it's comforting to know that they can pick up the slack if need be.
- Penn State has some very solid players on the defensive end. As a unit though, they still need work. It seems that every night the Lions' opponent is exploiting them in a different way. We're all used to seeing teams dominate the Nittany Lions from three point land, but tonight we saw the Dukes make a living with mid range jumpers and easy dunks in the lane. That may have had something to do with the extended absence of Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor in the Nittany Lion lineup, but it was still slightly concerning to see.
- Duquesne's free throw shooting is beyond bizarre. For a team whose reputation is built upon being sharpshooters, you would think that they would have more success from the free stripe. Had they been able to hit on more than 57.1% of their free throws, this may have been a different game. So in other words, everyone say thank you to Jim Ferry for not having his team practice free throws more often!
- Maybe Penn State's offense is more versatile than we thought? While Chambers surely isn't assuming that Brandon Taylor will score "x" amount of points each night due to the inconsistent nature of his play, I would think that he's expected to at least have his name on the scoresheet each night. In fact, had someone told me before the game that Taylor would be held scoreless, I probably would have assumed that Penn State lost the game. And we haven't even discussed DJ's scoring yet! On a night where DJ couldn't get anything to fall, Penn State showed the ability to pick up the slack on the offensive end thanks to Geno, Shep Garner, and Donovon Jack. If those guys can continue to be consistent scorers, maybe this team won't get eaten alive in Big Ten play.
Geno Thorpe on his offensive approach: "Coach just decided started me in the second half and he told me to be aggressive so that's what I did. I just try to let the game come to me and try to make the smart play. I don't really try to force anything. I'm open, I'ma shoot it."
Shep on the close games and their effects: "Well I think these close games are helping us be more comfortable in uncomfortable situations. So when we get in games like that, we don't panic, we just tough it out."
Geno on the close games and their effects: "Retweet."
(Yes, he said "Retweet". Geno Thorpe is a God among men.)
Geno on what the team needs to do to hold their larger leads: "I would say just getting better on defense. They were setting a lot of ball screens, a lot of middle ball screens, side ball screens, I mean it's just something we have to work on and get better at in practice."
Chambers on the game: "Finally made our free throws. Free throws won us the game tonight. They played great defense, give Jimmy a lot of credit. Those kids played really hard and tough. That's an in-state rivalry game and that's what I expected. I tell our Philly kids it's a Big 5 game and it's not gonna be pretty, it's gonna be ugly and it's gonna be close. Just get used to it. We knew it, and they did a great job. Donovon Jack, Geno Thorpe down the stretch there, they were huge. We needed every point.
On Geno Thorpe's night: "Every time I start that kid he does something positive. He was jacked up, he did a lot of good things, a lot of extra effort plays, winning plays, culture plays to help his team win. When our top two scorers are struggling a little bit, it's really refreshing to know that we we can go to different guys and different plays to help us step up and be successful.
Up next, Penn State will take on 5-2 George Washington in the BJC on Sunday. Despite Penn State already having a loss this season, the Colonials will be the toughest test for the Lions so far this season. If you listened into the BSD Basketbro Show this week, you heard Chad and guest host Sam Cooper's fear of this matchup. Be sure to tune in or get out to the BJC if you can to help support the team as they try to push their record to 10-1!