There will be some folks that dismiss this win due to the ineptitude of Rutgers. And that may be fair, because the Scarlet Knights are awful with only seven scholarship players. But Penn State found themselves in pretty serious trouble as the second half settled in. They were unraveling under the weight of the self-doubt that always clouds this program. Their 23-8 first half lead had vanished, the shots weren't falling, and the game seemed to be following the same script as Penn State's maddening loss at the RAC last year.
Were they really going to let this awful Rutgers team win their first conference game? Well fortunately this group grew up again under the pressure of expectations and went on a 15-0 run to put the game away. Surely it was aided by Rutgers' awfulness, but it was the type of necessary response this program has had trouble delivering in the past. Penn State now finds itself over the .500 mark at 14-13 (5-9).
Shep Garner led the way with 20 points on 5-9 shooting from beyond the arc. He's officially busted out of his 0-16 slump after making 9-16 threes in these last two games. Brandon Taylor added a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds, but it wasn't his best shooting performance. Josh Reaves and Donovon Jack also scored in double figures, but you will find more on them later.
Four Factors Analysis
Penn State won the numbers game by virtue of their dominance on the glass. Rutgers didn't have the size or athleticism to keep the Nittany Lions off the offensive glass. They grabbed 15 offensive boards that yielded 16 second chance points, which helped make up for a subpar shooting performance. The Lions also cut down on some of the careless turnovers they had in the Iowa game.
Player of the Game
Josh Reaves - 12 points (4-8 FG, 4-4 FT), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
Penn State's now 3-1 since Josh Reaves returned from his bout with mono. I don't think that's a coincidence. Reaves continues to make winning plays despite his struggles shooting the ball. He left a few points on the floor in the shooting department, but made up for it with his dazzling athleticism on the offensive glass. His five offensive boards led to four second-chance field goals for 9 points. He did all of that after rolling his ankle early in the second half. Glad to have ya back, Josh.
- Donovon Jack Revival - Donovon has four more weeks left of his career, so naturally he's channeling his inner-Sasa Borovnjak. The beleaguered senior put together another solid game with 12 points, 6 rebounds and a block (although it seems to me he swatted more than one).
- Puzzling Rotation - The bench rotation has had a dramatic shift with Isaiah Washington getting more and more minutes of late despite mostly subpar results. Davis Zemgulis and Julian Moore have been non-factors the last two games. Devin Foster returned to the squad but only saw action for one brief minute in the second half.
- Rutgers sucks - They are in worse shape than the end of the Jerry Dunn era. My goodness.
It's fun to look ahead these days, as the Big Ten schedule becomes a benefit down the stretch instead of its usual roadblock to success. The next game for the Lions will offer a chance to redeem themselves from their awful second half in Lincoln. Nebraska comes to State College on Thursday night for a 7:00pm tip on ESPNU. Shavon Shields has yet to return for the Huskers, but he may play today against the Buckeyes.