Following a dominant 72-55 win by Texas A&M over Oklahoma State in the early game, Penn State took the court to take on Pittsburgh. Tony Carr and Josh Reaves both returned to the starting lineup, as the Nittany Lions looked for their first win away from home this year. While it wasn’t going to be a huge boost to the strength of schedule, a win against an in-state rival is meaningful at any time.
In what we can only hope is the start of a trend, Penn State jumped out to an early lead. A ten point lead for a team that plays top-notch defense on every possession is deadly, and the Nittany Lions proved that tonight.
Contrary to their usual slow starts on offense, Penn State came out hot, able to get whatever shot they wanted. Two blocks by Penn State, two turnovers from Pitt, and 4 of 7 shooting from beyond the arc led to a solid 16-3 lead at the first media timeout. The Panthers were able to find some success from 3-point range as well, but struggled to score inside. A lack of rebounding, which has been a weakness all year for Pitt, continued to limit their second chance opportunities. This is what it looks like when Penn State plays lockdown defense while knocking down a few shots on the offensive end (also when their opponent shows limited ability to penetrate on offense).
My biggest complaint early on was the continued preference towards the 3-point shot, despite having the upperhand in the match-up in the paint. Rather than blowing the game open by getting the ball into the paint and drawing fouls, Penn State chose to attack from beyond the arc. In this game, as with most, Mike Watkins shouldn’t be shut out with less than 8 minutes in the first half. Fortunately, provided with a hot start from the offense, the defense was able to make up for any cold shooting stretches during the first half. Even as Pittsburgh settled in they had already dug themselves a double-digit hole to climb out of.
Josh Reaves made a steal that led to this Mike Watkins dunk late in the first half.
Towards the end of the first half the game started to open up. Blocks and steals leading to easy transition scores, the involvement of Mike Watkins in the half-court offense, and cold shooting from Pittsburgh allowed Penn State to open up a 26 lead before half. Tony Carr led the team with 14 points, shooting 4-4 beyond the arc, including a buzzer-beater that added insult to injury for the Panthers.
Watkins started right where he left off, with a layup on the first possession followed by a free throw on the second possession. Unable to slow down the Nittany Lions’ attack, it was unclear where a second-half surge might originate for the outmatched Panthers. One thing I was looking to see after the team got out to a big lead was the killer instinct. In previous games this year Penn State had allowed opponents to stick around. That was definitively not the case tonight.
Lamar Stevens tested the resolve of the Pittsburgh defense early in the second half and it’s fair to say that the resolve has seen better days for the Panthers.
What’s more, a big lead allowed Pat Chambers to get Nazeer Bostick, Jamari Wheeler, and Julian Moore extended playing time in the second frame. This will be important going forward, but could also prove vital tomorrow night when Penn State takes on Texas A&M.
Watkins looked very comfortable tonight without much competition from the opposing team inside the paint. He’ll be tested tomorrow without a doubt.
Pitt didn’t have much to counter with on the offensive end, but it was impressive to watch Penn State build their lead throughout the second half. When you have John Harrar coming off the bench and making an immediate impact, things are going well. An aside, despite being a freshman and unheralded recruit, Harrar has been impressive early on this year.
Penn State closed out the game with a lineup of Wheeler – Zemgulis – Buttrick – Harrar – Pierce. This gave some of the young players and fringe contributors valuable minutes on a neutral court. Pitt was able to close the gap slightly during this stretch, but it woudn’t matter much with a final score of 85-54.
Player of the Game
Tony Carr (16 points, 4-4 3pt, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) His stat-line says a lot, but not all. What I admired most about Carr during a blowout win was his composure. When he took the final shot of the first half it wasn’t a spontaneous decision, he had a plan. When he drives the lane in transition, he already has a Plan B in mind in case the defense collapses around him. His composure allows his teammates to play through him, and brings the desirable quality of making his teammates better players when they’re on the court together. This is what you want from a star point guard.
- This game was never close, and more importantly, Penn State never looked back after building an early lead. In a game they were supposed to win, this is the type of performance fans were looking for from Chambers and Co. Sure Pitt is in a down year, but it still felt nice, if only to set up an exciting match-up against Texas A&M on Tuesday.
- Spreading the wealth. As you might expect, there was no need to lean on one player to come away with the win tonight. Six players reached double figures in scoring, and Pitt had no choice other than to weather the storm. Let’s hope this offensive production carries over.
The Nittany Lions (5-0) will take on the #16 Texas A&M Aggies at 6:00 PM EST, check the preview for the broadcast information. It will be the most difficult test by far that Penn State has faced to-date, and should give us a better idea of how good the team is at this stage in the season.