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A Look at Penn State's Woes Defending the Three Against Radford

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The Nittany Lions gave up a combined 29 threes over their last two games, both losses. How did it happen?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State's perimeter defense has been the big talking point coming off of back-to-back losses to Duquesne and Radford. The Dukes hit 17 threes, while the Highlanders followed that up with 12 threes. Is Penn State the unluckiest team in the world? Is the 2-3 zone the culprit? I re-watched the Radford game to break down the breakdowns and try to get some answers.

Cameron Jones, 18:06 First Half

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Lineup: Garner-Banks-Reaves-Taylor-Moore
Defense: 2-3 Zone

Coming off of a basket by Josh Reaves, Cameron Jones (3) is on the right wing as Radford swings the ball around up top. The ball goes to the top of the key and Kion Brown (00) sets a screen on Brandon Taylor, who is on the right down low in the 2-3 zone. Right as Brown goes to set the screen, the ball swings to Jones. Payton Banks moves to Jones' left to defend the passing lane heading back to the top of the key, but Taylor is indecisive running into the screen and forces himself away from the corner. Jones takes one dribble to his right into the corner and knocks down the shot.

YaYa Anderson, 11:54 First Half

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Lineup: Garner-Banks-Reaves-Moore-Jack
Defense: 2-3 Zone

After a missed three by Reaves, Radford hustles the ball up the floor. Penn State gets back into their 2-3 zone, this time with Donovon Jack in the middle and Julian Moore playing in the right corner. The ball swings from the left corner to just right of the top of the key to Rashun Davis (5). Moore overplays Davis, leaving YaYa Anderson (11) wide open for Davis to send a pass to and knock down the easy three. If Moore is going to play other positions than the middle of the zone, he cannot afford to make mistakes like this one.

YaYa Anderson, 10:41 First Half

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Lineup: Garner-Banks-Reaves-Moore-Jack
Defense: Man-to-Man

A missed Radford shot bounces near the baseline, and Penn State is unable to save it from going out-of-bounds. Radford inbounds it into the backcourt and the Nittany Lions settle into man. Anderson (11) gets the ball on the right wing, guarded by Banks. Sterling Christy (23), guarded by Moore, sets a screen on Banks to get Anderson back to the top of the key, and Moore switches on to him. Moore believes Anderson is going to try to blow by him and drops down to the free throw line, leaving Anderson wide open to hit a three.

Cameron Jones, 9:30 First Half

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Lineup: Garner-Banks-Reaves-Taylor-Jack
Defense: Transition

Jack misses a three pointer and, despite nearly losing the ball out of bounds on the rebound, Radford runs in transition. The outlet pass goes to Jones (3) on the right wing, who quickly fires with Jack running out at him, nailing the three.

Cameron Jones, 9:06 First Half

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Lineup: Garner-Banks-Reaves-Taylor-Jack
Defense: Man-to-Man

Following a Payton Banks missed three, Penn State is in man-to-man. Brandon Holcomb (55) sets a screen at the point for Jones (3), who hit a three on the last possession. Jack and Garner are both on Jones but he shoots anyway and nails it. Patrick Chambers takes a timeout after back-to-back threes. This one is hard to fault the Nittany Lions for.

Caleb Tanner, 8:23 First Half

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Lineup: Garner-Washington-Banks-Taylor-Jack
Defense: Man-to-Man (Inbound)

Radford inbounds the ball underneath the basket on the left block, with Jack guarding the inbounder. Caleb Tanner (10) goes out about five behind the three point line on the left wing. Garner fights through a Holcomb (55) screen and gets to the three point line just as Tanner is catching the ball. Tanner fires a 26-footer and hits it. Again, it's tough to fault the defense here as Tanner shot an absolute bomb.

Cameron Jones, 0:40 First Half

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Lineup: Garner-Banks-Reaves-Taylor-Dickerson
Defense: 2-3 Zone

Penn State is back in the zone here, with Garner and Banks playing the top. Davis (5) takes a screen set by Darius Bolstad (45) on Garner and moves towards the top of the key, and Banks shades over to Garner's side to aid. Davis gets one stride inside the three-point line and zips one out to Jones (3). Banks does a pretty good job recovering and contests the shot by Jones, but he hits his fourth three of the half.

Rashun Davis, 18:30 Second Half

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Lineup: Garner-Banks-Reaves-Taylor-Moore
Defense: 2-3 Zone

Davis (5) gets the ball on the left wing from his big man Brown (00), who is at the high post. Banks is on this side. Brown moves to set a screen. Banks sees it coming but decides to go under it, and Davis pulls up right at the line and has a three rattle in and out and back in.

YaYa Anderson, 14:15 Second Half

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Lineup: Garner-Foster-Banks-Jack-Moore
Defense: 2-3 Zone

Having noticed Moore's struggles in the zone in the first half, Chambers has moved him into the middle of the zone, swapping spots with Jack. Davis (5) passes to Anderson (11) on the right wing, where he is between Garner and Jack. As Anderson passes it back to Davis at the point, Jack notices Holcomb (55) on the baseline behind him and falls slightly farther back in the zone. Davis stares down Holcomb, but no-look passes it right back to Anderson who quickly fires one up before Jack can get back out to him. This one's on Jack: despite a heads-up play by Davis (what he does here is akin to a quarterback looking off a safety), he has to know Holcomb is not a threat where he is positioned, and that Moore can handle Holcomb if they do end up getting him the ball. His responsibility here should be making sure a hot player like Anderson isn't getting this open of a look.

Cameron Jones, 11:41 Second Half

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Lineup: Garner-Foster-Reaves-Banks-Moore
Defense: Man-to-Man (Inbound)

Taylor picks up his fourth foul and Penn State goes small. They've abandoned the zone and are playing man. Taylor's foul was on the floor and Radford is inbounding underneath on the right block. They run a play that has Jones (3) run around the perimeter and end up at the right wing. Garner, standing in the lane, is late to react, and only starts to move out toward Jones as the inbounds pass is thrown. It appears that Banks may have yelled out to him to turn his attention to Jones. Regardless, Jones gets the three away despite a quick close out by Garner, and banks one home. This is a mixture of poor defense and bad luck: Garner should have been looking for Jones sooner, but Radford also banked in a three from the wing here.

YaYa Anderson, 10:32 Second Half

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Lineup: Garner-Foster-Reaves-Banks-Dickerson
Defense: Man-to-Man

Penn State is still small and in man, with Dickerson having come in for Moore. Anderson (11) is guarded by Foster on the left side. He runs baseline, with two screens being set for him: one on the right block and one on the right elbow. The timing of the screens is such that Foster thinks he has avoided the first one, but runs into the second as he tries to go high to meet Anderson at the three point line. This leaves Foster going around a screen set higher than Anderson ends up positioned, and an open look. It's a pretty well designed play by Mike Jones.

Rashun Davis, 3:17 Second Half

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Lineup: Garner-Reaves-Banks-Moore-Jack
Defense: Man-to-Man

Anderson (11) takes the ball on the right wing against Penn State's man, moves to the top of the key, and drives to the free throw line. Reaves is guarding Davis (5) on the left wing and shades in to help on Anderson. Anderson kicks out to Davis, and Reaves closes quickly, but Davis gets it away before Reaves can block it and hits Radford's 12th and final three of the game.

Is there a conclusion to draw from all of this? Certainly not one specific one. Radford hit threes against the zone, against man, on inbounds plays, and in transition. They shot the ball well in this game. However, there seems to be a bit of a recipe here when Penn State is in zone, and that's going after whoever is playing the "4" position. They ran plays that targeted shots on the side of the zone played on different possessions by Brandon Taylor, Julian Moore, and Donovon Jack. Penn State either needs to adjust its approach with the zone to aid whatever weak link is on the floor that other teams will want to attack, or use different defensive schemes when those players are on the floor. Otherwise, good shooting teams will continue to look for these opportunities.