Penn State was challenged in the first-half against Bucknell before a 53-point second-half bolstered by Lamar Stevens’ 20-point second-half performance broke the Bison and resulted in another decisive win for the Nittany Lions. The team continues to trend in the right direction, and Lamar Stevens showed why he belongs in the discussion for Big Ten Player of the Year. What’s more, Georgetown used a similar game-script to pull a reversal on (#22) Texas, going from down-by-five at the half to an 82-66 win in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night making Penn State’s win over the Hoyas look a bit more impressive.
In thankfully the final BTN+ game of the year, the Nittany Lions host the Yale Bulldogs, a team coming off a 100-89 3OT win over Siena on Wednesday. Penn State should be rested and ready to run on Saturday, and Chambers may break out the press early to try and speed up the game and take advantage of the edge in team speed.
Scouting the opposition
The Bulldogs return only one starter from their 2019 team that won the Ivy League Tournament and lost in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament as a 14-seed to 3-seed LSU. The lone returnee, Jordan Bruner is a talented senior forward who fills up the box score every night and is a force at both ends of the court. He currently leads the team in rebounds and assists with 9.4 and 4.8 per game respectively. Bruner will be challenged in his match-up against Lamar Stevens, but even if he’s shut down on offense expect him create shots for teammates and to alter shots on the defensive end forcing missed layups.
Joining Bruner in the Bulldogs front-court is Paul Atkinson, a junior forward who’s scored over 20 points in 3-of-5 games this season. Atkinson leads the team in scoring with 19 points per game. He’ll be more heavily-involved on offense than Bruner, but also poses a threat to the Nittany Lions ability to drive the lane and score easily in the half-court offense. Between Bruner and Atkinson there’s a good chance Mike Watkins won’t be able to dominate in the way that he did against Bucknell.
Azar Swain is coming off a season-high performance with 25 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in Yale’s win over Siena in triple overtime. He’s the team’s most prolific 3-point shooter with double the attempts of anyone else on the team. At this point in the season Swain is shooting better from outside (32.5%) than inside the arc (25%), so Penn State should guard him aggressively along the perimeter.
Yale will look to spread the ball around, and similar to Bucknell they have 5-6 players who could score double-digits and help keep the game close if they get hot. Winning one or two individual matchups early on won’t cut it against a well-coached team with experience against tournament-caliber teams, and it will take another all-around performance to breath easy in the second half of this one.
What to watch for
Momentum - The way the team is playing, you hope to see them build upon each past performance and avoid slipping into bad habits due to their early-season success. Do they come out and play like they did in a dominant second-half against Bucknell, or does it take some time for them to settle down and pick up where they left off?
Tempo - I think this would have been a key regardless, but given Yale will be 3 days removed from a triple-overtime night-game it’s even more important. In their toughest test to-date the Bulldogs turned the ball over 22 times against Oklahoma State. A full-court press early and often from Penn State should have similar results.
The Nittany Lions continue to roll. Penn State 80, Yale 61.