No game is a gimmie for Penn State basketball this season, and this game seemed to be no different - Eastern Michigan came into this game with a comparable 5-2 record, their only losses against Michigan State and Oakland.
Early in the game, it seemed like this would be the battle most expected. Penn State tried to establish their inside-out game right away, but Eastern Michigan's zone gave PSU fits. This led to many turnovers off deflections and bad passes. The issues were compounded by Penn State's early fouls and overall lack of shooting. The Nittany Lions put Eastern Michigan in the bonus at the 11:30 mark in the first half, and into the double-bonus with 6:30 left to play in the half. Penn State took some early ill-advised shots, and at one point in the game were shooting just 21% from the field.
Once the Lions figure out how to get around Eastern Michigan's zone the game opened up for them. Shep Garner started spreading the ball well and the shots started falling. Double ball screen plays opened up passes that led to two threes from Brandon Taylor, as well as an inside look to Payton Banks, who posted a career-high 17 points on 5-10 shooting. Penn State would go into the half up 34-24.
It was more of the same in the second half as Taylor, Garner and Banks refused to allow EMU to get within double-digits. Eastern Michigan's mistakes started piling up on them, and Penn State saw their lead balloon to 23 as a result. Eastern Michigan made a small run throughout the second half to make the game seem closer than it was, but 8 of 8 shooting from the line down the stretch sealed the game for Pat Chambers' squad.
Four Factors Analysis
Neither team shot their free-throws well over the course of the game, with Penn State shooting a cold 63.3% from the charity stripe. The turnover rate is starting to go up as well over recent games. Chambers will want to clear that up moving forward.
Penn State made a tremendous effort in rebounding, winning that battle 49-32. Penn State hauled 19 offensive rebounds to Eastern Michigan's six, leading to plenty of second-chance points that gave PSU such a high points-per-possession mark on only 36% shooting from the field.
Player of the Game - Brandon Taylor: 27 pts (9-19 FG), 12 reb, 3 ast
It seems as if we're alternating between Shep and Brandon in this section, but they've deserved it up to this point. After a game where he scored only two points, Taylor had a monster game with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 assists. Other players stepped up as well to keep the team balanced, but Taylor was back to playing like he had all season.
- This was a chippy game - Eastern Michigan came to play, and it showed in their attidue. Unfortunately for them, the attitude resulted in many fouls for their team, including a technical on James Thompson IV.
- Free throw shots are a concern - This team needs to start making their free throw shots if they have any hopes of competing in games moving forward. Donovon Jack, Payton Banks, Julian Moore, Davis Zemgulis, and Isaiah Washington all missed multiple free throw shots today.
- Team is starting to come together - There are some mistakes that still need to be cleaned up, but you're starting to see Penn State grow into themselves a bit. The team knows who their leaders are, and the role guys are starting to understand their roles within the team. Garner understands that he doesn't have to take over every game in order to have a chance, and Taylor is starting to show that he knows when to go for a three-point shot, when to go in, and when to pass.
- Jack had himself a quietly solid game - Jack is who he is at this pint, but this is his second solid performance in a row for Jack, and it's definitely nice to see it out of him. He had 8 points to go along with three rebounds and an assist.
Penn State heads back on the road against a George Washington team that has already defeated #6 (at the time) Virginia in the same building. Another stiff test awaits the Lions on Tuesday evening.