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Penn State 60, Rutgers 43: No Letdown Here

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You think they forgot about last season?

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

If I had a penny for every time Penn State followed a big win with disappointment, I’d be a rich man. Inconsistency has been the name of the game for the Nittany Lions for longer than any of us would like to admit, and this year has been no exception. Until the past two weeks, the only thing that was consistent was the inability for the Nittany Lions to win back to back games. That is no longer.

Penn State came off its biggest win of the season, an emotional game that saw Josh Reaves come back after being ineligible for four games, and went down to the wire. Like last season, they’d have to follow that emotional high with a grind it out game against one of the best defensive teams in the country in Rutgers.

For the first half, it looked like that would be the case. The Scarlet Knights opened up the scoring with a rare three-pointer, and the game would remain tight for most of the first half. As the half came to a close, though, the Nittany Lions started to take over some. From the end of the first half to about five minutes into the second, the Lions went on a 16-0 run catalyzed by an eight minute scoreless run for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights would close it out to seven points, but Penn State reopened a double digit lead they would not give up the rest of the way.

Four Factors Analysis

Team Total Possessions PPP eFG% OReb% TO% FT Rate
Team Total Possessions PPP eFG% OReb% TO% FT Rate
Penn State 68 0.88 48.2% 26.5% 23.4% 21.8%
Rutgers 0.63 35.3% 5.7% 23.4% 17.6%

Rutgers got a taste of their own medicine in this game, as Penn State’s defensive tenacity made an already deficient offense nearly invisible for most of the game. The Scarlet Knights’ bread and butter, offensive rebounds, was taken away from them, and it was the Nittany Lions who were crashing the boards with regularity. While the turnovers evened out as the game went on, the increased rate by Penn State to start the game was virtually the only thing keeping Rutgers in this. As soon as the Lions cleaned it up, it was game over.

Players of the Game

The return of Josh Reaves has Penn State looking like a real team again, and he’s back to his disruptive tendencies on the field. When he wasn’t making life miserable for Corey Sanders, he was creating for his teammates in the form of steals and assists. Reaves was sorely missed, and we can all see why.

Mike Watkins puts out double-doubles faster than Drake can put out albums. The next step is to get that triple double under his belt. Save for a few missed gimmies to begin the game, Watkins was back to his dominant self. That’s good to see.

Random Observations

No Stevens? No problem. - Lamar Stevens was nearly invisible in this game, having no points until well into the second half. As it turns out, Rutgers’ offense was so bad they wouldn’t need him anyway.

Watkins back to form. - The big man recorded 19 rebounds, a career high for him. After a few quiet games by his standards, it’s good to see him take over again.

Start Zemgulis the rest of the season. - The team is undefeated with Deividas Zemgulis as a starter. Clearly that’s why they’re winning. He may not provide a bucket of points per game, but he’s giving Penn State a handful of good minutes defensively and on the boards.

Corey Sanders went scoreless. - For the first time in his career, Sanders failed to record a single point in a game. I guess Rutgers isn’t the only team that can play defense.

The bench is producing, in its own special way. - With Deivis giving Penn State quality minutes, Julian Moore having three assists (Penn State had 12 total), and Nazeer Bostick, Jamari Wheeler, and John Harrar not being liabilities when on the floor, it’s starting to feel like Penn State doesn’t need all its starters on the floor at all times.*

Back to .500 - At 5-5, Penn State is in sole possession of seventh place in the Big Ten. If Purdue Purdues, they can be tied for sixth by Sunday night. This is the first .500 or better start for Pat Chambers after 10 conference games. One more conference win would match last season’s total.

Looking Ahead

Penn State gets a few days’ rest to prepare for another tough road test, as they travel to East Lansing to take on the No. 6 Michigan State Spartans. Don’t expect a victory, but confidence coupled with adversity can do crazy things. Game is a 6:30 Eastern on BTN.

*Except for Shep Garner and Tony Carr, who aren’t likely to spend less than 35 minutes on the floor the rest of the way.