Back in 2013, when Penn State beat then No. 4 Michigan in similar fashion to Tuesday’s game, the Nittany Lions followed the elating feeling by being blown out of the water at Minnesota. This team faces a similar challenge, but this time around they face a Purdue team that is comparatively better than what that Minnesota team was back then. That said, this Nittany Lion team is comparatively better than its 2013 counterpart, by all verifiable measures. Whether that means a more competitive game, or even a win, is yet to be decided.
The last time these two teams faced off, Penn State made a furious comeback attempt, was in position to win the game in regulation, but what many would say was a blown call led to the game going to overtime, where the Boilermakers took control and “ran” away with the 9-point victory. If the Nittany Lions find themselves in a double-digit hole again, the road environment might be a little bit much to overcome, but familiarity with the opponent should at the very least ease those concerns.
Scouting the opposition
It all begins and ends with Carsen Edwards. The junior had 38 of Purdue’s 99 points last time out, and played 41 minutes. That’s about 39% of the team’s possessions. His 53% 3-point rate only helped to make matters worse. If Penn State is to have a chance in this game, they need to find a way to slow Edwards down.
Purdue, of course, is not just Edwards. Ryan Cline also had his way beyond the arc, going 6-7 from 3-point land, while also playing 41 minutes in the game. Cline and Edwards accounted for 58 of Purdue’s points and 52% of their possessions, so stoping either of these two players (or both) will play a good role in improving the Lions’ chances in this one.
The rest of the team played their supporting roles, but the next best point output came from Trevion Williams, who had 10 points in the game.
What to watch for
Follow-ups - Purdue is coming off an embarrassing loss to Maryland (albeit on the road), while Penn State is coming off an elating win against Michigan. Can Penn State keep the high and make it two in a row, or will Purdue shake off their bad performance against the Terps and put the Lions away early?
Can small ball work again? - A wrinkle that proved instrumental in mounting the upset on Tuesday was the insertion of Lamar Stevens at the five, which allowed for lineups him, along with Rasir Bolton, Jamari Wheeler, Josh Reaves, and Myles Dread all together on the floor at the same time. Michigan did an admirable job of dealing with the constant pressure, but consistently spending nine seconds before you even get to mid-court proved to be a key difference in that game. Purdue, on the other hand, has a couple of capable big men that might be able to keep Pace with Lamar. Will the increased defensive pressure, however, be enough to slow down Cline and Edwards?
Myles the hot man - Dread had five threes in the game against Michigan, a great complement to Stevens’ own performance against the Wolverines. If Myles can find the bottom of the net again with consistency, it might just be enough to both ease the pressure on Lamar but to keep pace with Purdue’s inevitable barrage of threes.
Beating Michigan, while somewhat expected, is the feel-good story of the season. On Saturday, we go back to reality, where Penn State will either find away to lose this game in excruciating fashion, or they’ll simply get blown out and we can all go live our lives in peace. I’ll go with the former, because it’s Penn State basketball. Purdue 119, Penn State 118 (3OT)