Even as this Penn State squad was building up to its best start since the Crispin brothers/Titus Ivory-led 2000-01 team that got to the Sweet 16, the criticisms were also mounting. Most notable amongst those criticisms were the fact that PSU was playing down to the level of most of their opponents, some of whom on paper, they should have beaten with minimal trouble.
This set the stage for a gut-check showdown against a George Washington team that was returning most of its key players from last year's NCAA Tournament team and was projected to finish second behind VCU this year in the Atlantic 10 by the media. The game started out as expected, with PSU finding itself down 13-8 at the first media timeout, five minutes in. The final 35 minutes of the game however, saw PSU limit GW to 38 points, making sure nobody other than Patricio Garino (15 points, 6 rebounds) and Kevin Larsen (15 points, 13 boards) got going and implementing some 3/4 court press along with stifling man-to-man defense that flustered the Colonials into giving up turnovers and putting up contested (and sometimes even ill-advised) shots.
More importantly, it was a coming out party for Jordan Dickerson, who seemed to alter every inside shot (when he wasn't busy blocking six of them) and was a strong rebounding presence (six total, two offensively). We'll touch more on Dickerson shortly (hint, hint), but shout-outs also go to the usual suspects D.J. Newbill (who led all scorers with 20 points, including a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line), Brandon Taylor (17 points, 8 rebounds, 3-for-6 on three pointers) and Shep Garner (10 points, including a pair of Talor Battle-range triples). Ross Travis, despite not scoring a point, was PSU's leading rebounder once again, grabbing ten boards.
When it was all said and done, Penn State had not only beaten a quality George Washington team, but had done so in a fashion that left many fans wondering where such dominating performances were against the Cornells, Marshalls, and duqanes on the schedule. Sitting pretty at 10-1 overall now (its best start since the 1995-96 team started off 13-0) and with Drexel and Dartmouth their lone remaining non-conference games, it simply becomes a matter of this team taking care of business and making sure they are rocking a 12-1 record when they visit Wisconsin on New Year's Eve to open the Big Ten portion of their schedule.
Four Factors Analysis
The first two categories (PPP and eFG%) best illustrate how much better PSU was defensively today, holding GW to 34% shooting from the floor and not allowing a single three pointer (GW was 0-for-8). Despite a serious 23 to 9 free-throw attempt advantage, the Colonials failed to take advantage, going 15-for-23 from the line, while PSU was a perfect 9-for-9.
Player of the Game - Jordan Dickerson
The 7-foot center put together a performance that frankly, we had been expecting from him all along: Six blocks (plus countless other shots that were altered) and six rebounds along with four points, to boot. He was the imposing Dikembe Mutombo-like force down low that helped make life miserable for GW offensively. Here's to hoping that today was the day we saw the light finally come on for Jordan.
- 'Battle' might be his middle name - Did anyone else notice how Shep Garner is not afraid to the pull the trigger from virtually anywhere past the Nittany Lion logo on the court? It certainly reminds me of another well-revered player who was wowing the crowd at the BJC not too long ago...
- ESPN3 is the worst - Perhaps it was my Internet connection, but when the video feed wasn't busy freezing (with audio still in the background) and then fast-forwarding in a Yakety Sax-like manner to help the video catch up to the audio, it was busy cutting back to commercial right after getting back from a media-mandated timeout, showing commercials during critical game action as a result. Get your shit together, ESPN.
- There's still plenty of room on the flaming bus bandwagon - Obviously, we'll know more about this team's true identity once they get into the heart of their B1G schedule, but it's getting increasingly difficult to not be excited about this team's prospects for the remainder of the season, especially if they can consistently throw together defensive performances like today's.
The shooty hoops stars will be busy taking finals like the rest of their fellow students this week before resuming play this upcoming Saturday against Drexel at the brand spankin' new PPL Center in Allentown. It will be a well-deserved rest before playing their first of two games in a three-day span (Darmouth visits the BJC on December 22nd) to close out its non-conference portion of the schedule.