"A sight for sore eyes" hardly begins to describe the first 32 minutes of a game that saw nine(!) jumps balls. Wisconsin's 66-60 win at Penn State didn't quite approach 2011 Big Ten Tournament status, but nonetheless those first 32 were an especially painful watch in a PSU campaign already lacking in aesthetics.
But just as they did against Minnesota, a strong few minutes on defense ignited a comeback that saw a Wisconsin lead as large as 17 points hover around six-to-eight points for the final few minutes, but the damage was already done at that point. Behind Payton Banks, Brandon Taylor and Devin Foster, Penn State's acumen from three point range eventually carried over from Evanston and got the home team back within three with just 26 seconds to play.
After Foster's second triple of the game and a solitary free throw from Wisconsin's Ethan Happ, freshman Davis Zemgulis' double-clutch layup rimmed out. Happ, whose 20 points and 11 boards paced the Badgers, grabbed the rebound and drew the foul, all but sealing Penn State's fate.
That the game was ever in question is a testament to Pat Chambers' ability to motivate, though the rest of the game must then be a testament to Chambers' inability to get this particular team to play with any positive consistency for 40 minutes. The Nittany Lions dug themselves a 17-point hole with poor ball movement and porous defense, problems that have plagued this team all season. So this is likely who they are at this point. In a Big Ten so divided between the top six and the rest of the league, it might be good enough to get them where they should be - 10th-12th in the league - but probably no better.
Four Factors Analysis
That Penn State managed to get close to 1.00 points per possession by the end of the game is a near miracle considering their not-so-nice 0.69 ppp effort in the first half. That inflation was bolstered by their second-half willingness (or necessity) to shoot more threes, which they shot at a 40% clip for the night.
Happ was a handful for Penn State's bigs all night long. J.A.'s cousin got Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack into foul trouble with ease and shot 15 of Wisconsin's 35 freebies. Update: Per Chambers, Jack suffered a back injury in the game, likely on an attempted dunk in the second half.
Player of the Game - Julian Moore: 8 pts (2-4 FG), 10 reb, 2 blk
Speaking of Happ, Moore was the only player in Blue and White that experienced any modicum of success against the heralded Badger freshman. In a season-high 34 minutes, Moore anchored the paint during that second half comeback, holding his ground and avoiding foul calls down against Happ and Nigel Hayes, who was held to just 5-14 shooting against Moore and Taylor. We discussed the importance of Moore's development many times on BSD, and this effort was an encouraging sign that he can be capable of playing big minutes against B1G-caliber opponents.
- Avoiding the three - After a 9-21 effort from deep in the win at Northwestern on Saturday, Penn State curiously shot just four threes in that painful first half, rarely looking for openings on the perimeter. Credit Gard's gameplan to an extent, but it seemed as though PSU was looking to get Taylor posted up against Hayes as much as possible. That strategy didn't pay off until the comeback was underway and Wisconsin was focused on defending the arc. Seems Chambers got his chicken and egg mixed up.
- Foster, Australian for Buckets - Devin Foster's shot is unorthodox, to say the least, and to the shock of presumably every Penn State basketball fan he hit two massive threes down the stretch to keep PSU alive. Don't look now, but DF is now shooting 55% from three on the year after going two of three in this game.
It's another week of travel ahead for Penn State - they'll get snowed in on Saturday with nowhere to go and travel to Columbus for a date with Ohio State on Monday night (7 p.m., BTN). Then they'll have a long week off before they "host" Michigan at the World's Most Famous Arena for part one of the vaunted hoops-hockey doubleheader. BSD will have more on the Buckeyes on Monday, plus a special treat leading up to Super Saturday.