It's never going to be pretty, or even fun with this team. Penn State had to fight for their 73-69 win in Huntington, WV, and it's been the tale of the season so far. The Nittany Lions let Marshall hang around for most of the game, despite the Herd living up to their reputation as an horrendous free-throw shooting team (18-32). D.J. Newbill was once again needed to confirm victory, scoring 13 of his 17 points in the second half, though the biggest play of the evening came from his missed layup with 11.9 seconds to play. Donovon Jack benefited from the attention paid to Newbill and was able to tip in the layup to give Penn State a three-point lead, one they never relinquished after Newbill hit the game-sealing free throws.
Newbill, the nation's leader in points scored, had extra offensive help tonight from John Johnson and Brandon Taylor, who all tied for the team high. It was a forgettable second half for Taylor though, who dribbled into traps time after time which led to numerous easy buckets for Marshall at the other end. To the junior's credit though, he did push through that stretch to hit a big three-pointer after the home side had cut the lead to four with 5:00 to play, the closest they'd been at that point. Taylor was just 3-9 from three-point land on the night, however, and it's still unclear as to whether Penn State can rely on him to be the second option on offense.
Four Factors Analysis
The numbers here indicate just how tight this game was, despite the fact that Penn State never trailed in the second half. Rebounding was huge for Penn State, as four players contributed at least five rebounds to the cause, led by Ross Travis' nine.
But make no mistake, the Nittany Lions underperformed today. This is a Marshall team that has taken some horrendous losses at home, and PSU was rightfully expected to win this game comfortably. Penn State has been dropping like a rock in the KenPom rankings despite the winning streak, and this effort won't help that cause. Does that mean they're a bad team? No it doesn't, but it'd be a lot easier to feel good about their chances in the B1G if every game wasn't a struggle.
Player of the Game - John Johnson
If there is one personnel positive Pat Chambers can take away from yet another nail-biting win, it's Johnson's veteran performance. The senior with just over 1.5 semesters of college ball under his belt played like a fourth-year guy on Saturday, opting to get to the rim and draw fouls instead of settling for low-percentage shots. He's got to hit his freebies at a better clip than the 7-12 he shot today, but the whole team reaped the rewards of Marshall's constant fouling on Johnson's drives.
- Shepherd Author Garner III - The freshman continues to be the pleasant surprise of the 2014-15 season. He scored a career-low three points tonight, but that didn't preclude him from having an impact on the game. Garner corralled six rebounds and dished out four assists in his 26 minutes, looking poised and in-control throughout.
- The Jack/Dickerson Conundrum - Jordan Dickerson has one discernible skill that adds value to this team - his shot-changing. He wasn't totally invisible on Saturday - Marshall shot under 50% on twos, and he played 17 minutes - but he failed to record a single blocked shot and constantly let rebounds slip away from his grasp. Donovon Jack also played 17 minutes, and had a much better night: 6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block. Does Chambers go back to playing Jack from the start next Wednesday?
- Top 25 Talk? - The CBS Sports Network announcers discussed Penn State's chances at finishing non-conference play at 12-1 and asked whether they could have a ranking attached to their name when they face Wisconsin on New Year's Eve. I can answer that question: no way in hell, because if they keep playing like this they're bound to tally at least one more loss. It's fun to dream, though!
It's finally here! Happy duqane Week everybody! The BJC will host the Dukes on Wednesday, who don't look quite as bad on paper considering their lone "bad" loss came against NJIT, who upset Michigan earlier today. More on duqane next week.