Ever since it was first announced that Penn State would be taking on one of college basketball's titans in Duke earlier this year, fans were genuinely excited to see just how a PSU squad welcoming its best recruiting class in program history would stack up against a pre-season national title favorite. Even though Duke won the game like everyone expected, it was hard to come away from watching this game and not feel encouraged about how this team will be able to compete with the Big Ten's best come conference play.
I would be remiss to mention the fact that Duke came into this game missing three key players to injuries in forwards Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, as well as center Marques Bolden. Not to mention, the fact that Grayson Allen, Cameron Jeter, and Amile Jefferson all suffered injuries during the game for the Blue Devils. Allen and Jefferson would return to action, but even without them, Duke was still a deep enough team to withstand such a flurry of injuries, as evidenced by guard Frank Jackson coming off the bench to lead Duke in scoring with 17 points. Combine Duke's quality bench with the fact that Penn State failed to take advantage of some open looks early on that would have made this game more of a nail-biter, and Duke was able to keep a steady lead of between ten to fifteen points throughout the second half, only letting it dip as low as eight points late in the ball game. In addition to Jackson, Duke had four other players hit double figures in scoring, including 16 from Jefferson, 15 apiece for Luke Kennard and Matt Jones, and 12 from Allen. Penn State also had four players reach double figures scoring, with Tony Carr's 20 points, 15 from Shep Garner, 13 from Payton Banks, and 11 from Lamar Stevens
Four Factors Analysis
Penn State recovered nicely after being at a dismal 0.66 PPP at halftime, but Duke was just too consistent on the offensive end and also got the free throw line more far more frequently (23 trips to PSU's 11), which is too much for a heavy underdog to overcome.
Player of the Game - Tony Carr (20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assist)
The freshman was surely not intimidated on the big stage, leading all scorers today off the bench. The craziest part is that his 8-for-19 shooting could have been even better had a few more of his good looks at the basket gone in.
- Did anyone else hear the "We Are..." chants during the ESPN3 broadcast? While the crowd was surely mostly pro-Duke, it was nice reminder that Penn Staters will travel to cheer their alma mater on, no matter what the sport is.
- With Duke clinging to a 72-64 lead in the game's final 90 seconds, PSU had a back-to-back opportunities to cut into the deficit and really make things interesting at the end. Alas, they were unable to convert. Hopefully, they will learn from this experience and actually come up with some clutch shots later in the season
- Yes, a fully healthy Duke squad would have probably obliterated this PSU team, but you still have to give credit to the players for fighting to the bitter end and never looking like they were throwing in the towel, a testament to the attitude instilled in them by the coaching staff. This game could have easily gotten out of hand early in the second half, otherwise. It would sure be nice to see this relentlessness pay off with an upset over Cincy or Rhode Island tomorrow.
Penn State awaits the loser of the Cincinnati-Rhode Island game in tomorrow's consolation game, which will be televised at 3:30 PM ET on ESPN2.