At a certain point, you just run out of things to say about a team like the 2014-15 Penn State Nittany Lions basketball team. This can either be a good or a bad thing; there are only so many times that we can compliment its resiliency and criticize the lack of talent that stems from it being, you know, Penn State.
But today, we can say one thing about Penn State that we haven't been able to say much this year: the team was in a goddamn bar fight with a superior team and won. After a brutal first half, the Nittany Lions were able to pull ahead in the second half. And then, just when we expected Penn State to slip up and do something that reminds you that this is Penn State basketball...that something never happened. If anything, PSU got better as the game went on.
Penn State got a lead against a superior team after trailing for most of the game. Penn State did not choke up that lead against said superior team. The superior team, which beat Penn State a few weeks ago, somehow could not figure out how to beat the Nittany Lions. It threw out a press, it trapped like hell, it attacked, it fouled guys like Ross Travis and Jordan Dickerson -- who combined to go 7-for-9 from the free throw line, even though they're not that great from the stripe.
And nothing worked. Nothing, especially the thing that usually works: waiting for Penn State to implode. Penn State did not implode. The team that had an abysmal first half -- 19 points, three players scored, kept doing dumb stuff -- regrouped. PENN STATE REGROUPED AFTER FALLING BEHIND TO A SUPERIOR OPPONENT. ARE YOU KIDDING?!?
Now, we sit. We wait. We get ready, because Penn State has a daunting task against Purdue tomorrow.
Most importantly, we sit and ask the question that we've been asking since the tournament started: Why not us?
Four Factors Analysis
For the second straight game, Penn State's defense was stifling, but it almost didn't matter, because the Nittany Lions couldn't keep its opponent off of the offensive glass. Iowa grabbed 49 rebounds--19 offensive boards. Iowa also did a spectacular job at the free throw line, as the Hawkeyes got to the stripe 31 times and knocked down 25. Of course, that is going to kill Penn State against Purdue tomorrow, as the Boilermakers are second in conference play and 24th nationally in OReb%, but let's not think about that right now.
But for the second straight day, the Nittany Lion defense shut down its opponent. Iowa's PPP of 0.88 was part of what killed the Hawkeyes, as was its horrendous eFG%. The Hawkeyes went 15-for-57 from the field (26.3 percent) and 3-for-15 from downtown (20 percent). Iowa only made seven shots in the second half, one of those being a three. PSU also did a spectacular job turning over its opponent, as Iowa had 12 turnovers today.
On the other side of the ball, Penn State didn't do a great job shooting, but it did enough. The Nittany Lions went 22-for-56 (39.3 percent) from the field and went 6-for-15 (40 percent) from three. Most importantly was their free throw shooting. It's part of the reason why this guy is our MVP...
Player of the Game - Ross Travis
Holy shit, Ross Travis. This was what we expected from you all year. 17 points, 7 rebounds, 6-for-9 from the field and, most importantly, 5-for-6 from the free throw line. Here, let me say this for you in all-caps:
ROSS TRAVIS, A 24.5 PERCENT FREE THROW SHOOTER, TOOK SIX FREE THROWS AND MADE FIVE OF THEM. FIVE OF THEM. HE HASN'T MADE THAT MANY FREE THROWS IN A GAME SINCE FEB. 2, 2014.
In a game like this, you turn to your veterans and say "you've been in more battles than anyone, get us a win." We knew D.J. Newbill was going to do that -- 18 points, 6 rebounds, yawn -- but for the first time this year, Ross Travis also did that in a win. Great job, Ross. You deserve this moment.
- Geno Had A Geno Game -- When Geno Thorpe does Geno Thorpe stuff, he's so fun. Today he had 11 points, which is about normal. But he also crashed the glass, was generally composed with the ball and annoyed the hell out of Iowa on defense. Thorpe pulled in five rebounds, dished out three assists and had an unreal six steals. He's a gem. He also fouled out, but whatever.
- The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows -- You probably glossed over the contributions that guys like Brandon Taylor, Jordan Dickerson and Devin Foster gave, but they were so important, especially Foster. When Penn State was getting antsy, he took the ball and calmed things down. Dickerson and B-Titty were both generally smart, did their jobs and didn't do the head-scratching stuff that we sometimes expect from them. They're in for a huge test tomorrow, but today, they were quite but good.
- Finish Strong -- 48 second half points. Forty. Eight. That is the sign of a team that fights and can come back from adversity, especially after Penn State's horrific first half performance. Seriously. Look at this nonsense. But it didn't matter. Because Penn State fought back from a deficit and was able to knock off the Hawkeyes.
Penn State will have its third game in three days as the Nittany Lions take on Purdue. You have probably blocked the game out of your mind, but the Nittany Lions fell to the Boilermakers in State College earlier this year. Penn State was a rebound on a Purdue missed free throw away from winning. Instead, Matt Painter's squad won in overtime, 84-77.
The Boilermakers are an incredibly talented squad, have a pair of really good seven-footers in Isaac Haas and A.J. Hammons and have played pretty well this season, but hey, if Penn State could somehow come back from that first half, anything is possible.