This game started exactly as any national expert with a gleaned knowledge of this Penn State team would have predicted - Wisconsin shot the lights out, getting out to a 20-10 lead early, and D.J. Newbill poured in Penn State's first 12 points on 6-7 shooting. The B1G's leading scorer was everything to the Nittany Lions in the first half. Literally. He scored or assisted on every bucket. Brandon Taylor's triple with five minutes remaining in the half was the first field goal from a non-Newbill player, and it cut Wisconsin's lead to seven. Penn State would get it down to three after a pair of Newbill free throws, but they'd never get any closer to the tie.
How, then, did this Wisconsin team - the most efficient offense in college basketball - only muster 55 points against such an offensively anemic opponent? Pat Chambers' teams aren't usually renowned for their defensive prowess, but tonight their closeouts and switches confused the Badgers just enough to prevent them from ever blowing the game wide open. Wisconsin had four different three-minute stretches without scoring, an impressive feat for any defense despite the slow pace at which Bo Ryan's teams play. Ryan complemented his opponents after the game, as he usually does every time he visits the BJC:
"Penn State's right there. Pat's done a great job. That's as hard as any team we've played, no question," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan tells BTN.— Greg Pickel (@GregPickel) February 19, 2015
Let's talk about D.J. Newbill. Dude had 29 points on 21 shots against the nation's fourth-ranked team. He put the team on his shoulders and almost single-handedly got Penn State back in the game. It took some timely shots from Frank Kaminsky down the stretch for Wisconsin to keep the Lions slightly out of reach for the rest of the night.
Newbill's only mistake on the night was the costliest, as is Penn State basketball tradition. Down five with the ball out of a Pat Chambers timeout, Ross Travis' ankle accidentally tripped Newbill, who fell and lost the ball. You couldn't think of a more cruel outcome for the senior.
"Points mean nothing to me if we lose the game," Newbill said in the post-game press conference. No, you're welling up. Our Ryan Stevens articulated D.J.'s night (and senior season) pretty well:
DJ was quick in and out of his post game presser. Seemed very deflated. Feel so bad the kid busts his ass every night.— Ryan Stevens (@RyanAStevens) February 19, 2015
Four Factors Analysis
Wisconsin's usual slow pace sees them score in the 50s from time to time, but their efficiency is almost always unrivaled. Tonight, Penn State became just the third team to hold the Badgers under 1.00 points per possession, joining Oklahoma (0.99 PPP) and Marquette (0.91 PPP) as the only teams to do so this season. Moral victories, I know, I know.
The Badgers won this game on the offensive glass. Penn State didn't create a ton on offense, and to Wisconsin's credit they rarely gave the Lions extra opportunities.
Player of the Game - D.J. Newbill
We detailed him above the proverbial fold, but he deserves more for the way he battled. Newbill attacked from his trademark triple threat at the top of the key all night long, and not one Badger defender had anything resembling an answer for the B1G's leading scorer. Sam Dekker (who himself had a career game with 22 points), Nigel Hayes, Josh Gasser - not one of them could stay with Newbill. If Penn State had gotten anything resembling a second option, this game could've been one to remember. /looks towards heavens, shakes fist
- Who is the best supporting actor well guess what it might be you - So yeah, Newbill's teammates. Only four other Nittany Lions scored. Brandon Taylor, who played 27 minutes despite carrying a slight knock, contributed the second-highest output with seven points on seven shots. Geno Thorpe had six on six shots, but foul trouble prevented him from ever getting in a rhythm.
- Freshman wall - Shep Garner continues to struggle from the field in the B1G. Tonight's 0-9 effort from the floor will likely be the nadir of his season, because he never looked scared or overwhelmed by the moment. He attacked more in the second half after settling for a few pull-up jumpers early, but nothing would fall for Bo Ryan's fellow Chester native.
- Julian Moore made a dang three-pointer - Thought it might've been a good omen at the time. It wasn't. Still kinda neat though.
- Did Pat get his money's worth? - The foul discrepancy - 17 to 9 in favor of Wisconsin - says no, but you have to take into account that the Badgers foul less than almost every team in the nation. There weren't any obvious blown calls and Chambers didn't seem to have any gripes afterwards. Call it a wash for now.
- Wisconsin was still impressive as hell - Kaminsky didn't have his greatest game (16 points on 4-12 shooting) - Donovon Jack actually had a few nice blocks on the National POY candidate (though one was called a foul, naturally) - but he almost always made the smartest possible play. Dekker had a career night, and even Nigel Hayes was a force with nine points and 13 rebounds.
Penn State will travel to Evanston on Saturday to face a Northwestern team that's surging lately. They survived overtime against Iowa when the Hawkeyes appeared to have momentum on Sunday, and as I'm writing this they're tied with Minnesota at the half. Update: They just won at Minnesota, 72-66. Freshman point guard Bryant McIntosh has been one of the best newbies in the conference, and the Wildcats are nothing to sneeze at. More on them Friday.