It certainly wasn’t a “must win” for Penn State, given how the Big Ten as a whole has been holding serve at home at a ridiculous clip (as of the time of writing this, the home team had won 44 of 52 conference games, for 84 percent), but a win on the road at Michigan for the first time in a full decade sure would go a long way towards attempting to solidify an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Nittany Lions, who trotted out their sick alternate pink-and-black uniforms on the road, opened the game up like bats out of hell, jumping out to an early 9-2 advantage just two minutes into the game. Michigan would claw back however, utilizing scoring in the paint to take a five-point lead of their own halfway through the first half. PSU would respond however, with a killer 14-0 run over the next six minutes, led by Myreon Jones’ clutch three-point shooting, as well as Lamar Stevens doing his usual scoring thing, which allowed Pat Chambers’ crew to take a nine-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
The second half saw PSU pick up where they left off, taking a 44-31 lead a few minutes in, and seeming like they were on the verge of turning the game into an embarrassment for the home team. It was then however, that Seth Lundy committed a “Flagrant 1” intentional foul after turning the ball over, which led to Michigan hitting a pair of free throws and getting the ball, followed by Lamar committing an equally dumb foul on a three-point attempt, which led to two more made free throws for the Wolverines.
This was followed up by a seemingly endless string of fouls (some dumb on the players’ part, some just insanely ticky-tack calls by the referees) that suddenly had Michigan in the bonus with still 12 minutes to play in the game. Capitalizing on PSU’s foul trouble, the Wolverines got themselves plenty of trips to the free throw line, whittling the PSU lead down to as little as five.
That’s when Pat Chambers busted out his secret weapon in Curtis Jones, who nailed three straight three-pointers to keep Michigan at bay and push the PSU lead back into double digits. The Wolverines, who had been battling shooting woes most of the night, began to see their struggles bite them in the behind, as PSU continually handed them opportunities via turnovers to allow them to try and steal a win.
Thankfully, Jones wasn’t done, as he nailed a couple more timely baskets, including the completion of an old-fashioned three-point play on a fast break with PSU leading by seven in the final minutes and Michigan trying to rally (Jones would finish with 18 points, all of them scored in the second half). The play pushed PSU’s lead back to ten, and the Wolverines would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way, as PSU would put the game away with Lamar and Myles Dread hitting their free throws. The seven-game losing skid and ten-year long drought at Michigan had finally been extinguished, and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time with PSU trying to impress the NCAA selection committee.
PPP and Four Factors
Michigan may have destroyed PSU on the offensive glass (the Wolverines had 12 of them, compared to only three for the Lions), but that was negated by PSU shooting a solid 48 percent from the floor, while Michigan floundered at 35 percent. Hence, the huge disparity in efficient field goal percentage was the determining factor in this one. I was surprised to see both teams turned it over the same number of times (13), since it seemed like PSU committed at least 20 of them in the second half, but I’ll gladly take it.
- This wasn’t the first time Curtis Jones stepped off the bench and delivered in a huge way, but CuJo’s performance tonight was the most clutch of his career. Every time it seemed like Michigan was about to go on a run and really make PSU sweat, CuJo was there to quiet the crowd with a timely bucket. A little more consistency from him would sure be nice, and hopefully, he’s brimming with even more confidence after tonight.
- Less than two weeks ago, when writing the recap after the loss to Wisconsin, I wrote this:
While losing a pair of games is not a death knell by any means, it’s hard not to look at the remaining schedule for January (at Minnesota, Ohio State, at Michigan, Indiana) and think that another epic January collapse is on the horizon.
As you all know, PSU went on to lose to Minnesota on the road, extending their losing streak to three games, and many of us longtime fans who suffer from PSU hoops redux began to prepare for the worst. Thankfully, the team has responded with consecutive big-time wins, including that elusive Big Ten road win, avoiding the January collapse.
- With that being said about my last bullet point: It’s important that the team adopts the James Franklin mantra of “1-0 this week” (or in some cases, 2-0 this week), block out all of the noise coming from Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, and other self-proclaimed bracketologists, focus on the opponent right in front of them, and continue to get better each game, so that they find themselves peaking come March.
- Penn State is now 5-1 in program history when rocking the pink-and-black unis. Perhaps they should consider doing so a little more often.
Penn State (14-5, 4-4) gets the weekend off, and won’t be back in action until next Wednesday, when they host Indiana (14-4, 4-3). Tip-off will be at 8:30 PM ET on BTN.