As we await the release of the Associated Press basketball poll on Monday, hoping to see if the Lions made it into the Top-25 for the first time since 1996, there is time to take another look at the tight win against Alabama on Saturday. While the team made waves with a win against No.4 Maryland earlier in the week, the comeback against the Crimson Tide was just as exciting for the fans.
Early in the game Alabama was able to use tempo to take the Lions out of their comfort zone while on offense. As a result we saw some sloppy passing from Penn State and shots that were rushed for no apparent reason. The shot selection was not what Pat Chambers would have wanted, either, as there was a lot of settling for outside shots in the first half.
Here is the Penn State shot chart for the game against Alabama. The right side of the court was where the Lions took their first half shots, the left side was during the second half. As you can see, there was good reason that Alabama got out to a 9-point lead. Shooting just 10 of 31 from the floor, including 4 of 17 from 3-point range, the Lions were lucky to stay within range of making a second half comeback.
The red circles were missed shots and the white circles were made. Notice on the left side, during the second half, how many fewer 3-point shots were taken. The number of makes is the same, four each half, but the second half saw just ten deep heaves.
It was addition by subtraction. Fewer shots went up and those that did were quality shots taken by the players that the team wants shooting from outside. Lamar Stevens went 0-3 in the first half and missed his only attempt of the second half. Six of Stevens’ shots in the second half came from the area that is best for him, near the foul line. In the first half he took just one shot from that range officially, though he was fouled twice while attempting to shoot in that area.
It was a good second half adjustment by coach Pat Chambers, to get the ball to Stevens in the mid-range area and allow him to work his game from where it best suits him. After going 1 of 6 in the first half he improved to 5 of 10 in the second half. More shots, from somewhere near the foul line, is a recipe for success.
Stevens put the team on his back for a few critical minutes in the second half. After trailing since the opening five minutes of the game, the Lions had cut the lead to one possession a few times before Alabama grew the lead back up. Myles Dread hit a 3-point shot to tie the game at 57 with 11 minutes to play but then the Crimson Tide held a 4-point lead twice after that.
Stevens scored 9 of 11 points for Penn State during a run that saw the team tie the game and then take the lead that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the day. But he wasn’t just playing offense. On the next possession following the first Penn State lead since the opening 5 minutes of the game, Alabama thought that they would drive past Stevens in the lane.
Not only did the play give Penn State the ball and fire up the rest of the team and crowd, but Stevens hit a jumper the next time down the court. It was the second time in the half that Stevens had a clean tie up for a jump ball.
As is the case with most close victories, it was a team effort. For the final four-plus minutes of the game Stevens was held scoreless while Curtis Jones hit a layup and then Izaiah Brockington hit a jump shot, his only make from the field all day, that turned out to be the game-winner.
During a 4-minute scoring drought that saw the Crimson Tide build a 9-point lead with 15 minutes to play, Curtis Jones showed that he is not afraid to take and make a critical shot. While Brockington’s clutch shot came late in the game, Jones’ deep three when the team needed it was equally important. The lead was cut to 6 and Alabama never led by more than that the rest of the way.
At the time the Lions were searching for answers on the offensive side of the court as the lead grew back out close to double-digits. Izaiah Brockington drew attention with his drive, got rid of the ball without creating a charge, then Myreon Jones made a great pass to get the ball to the shooter quickly. Jones hit the shot from just inside the Ollie’s sign on the scoring table.
It was a gutsy take by the graduate transfer at a time that it appeared that the game may slip away from Penn State. He didn’t hesitate and he knocked it down. It was the second time on the day that Alabama stretched the lead to 9 points and both times, on the next trip down the court, Curtis Jones hit a 3-point shot.
For some players, such as Lamar Stevens, Jamari Wheeler, Mike Watkins and Izaiah Brockington, the right place to launch a shot will usually be somewhere inside the 3-point line. When Myles Dread, Myreon or Curtis Jones are feeling it, anywhere across half court is fine.
With just two games on the schedule between now and January 4, each against opponents well outside the Top-100, there won’t be much of a chance for Penn State to make a statement to the voters of the AP poll until after the New Year. We’ll see if the wins this week were enough to slide into the Top-25.