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Penn State Basketball Roundtable: Lions Overcome Adversity

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The Nittany Lions lost three straight conference games, but have won their last two.

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

The Nittany Lions got over a shooting funk that saw them lose three consecutive conference games. Penn State held halftime leads in two of those three, only to go ice cold in the second half of each and ultimately lose the games. This set them back in the conference standings, but a two-game winning streak has them clawing their way back up.

Q: The Nittany Lions recently broke out of their three-game losing streak to win two straight. What was the biggest factor in the losing streak, and what have they done to turn things around?

Clay: The halfcourt offense in the losing streak was very stagnant and the shots refused to fall. Lamar Stevens and Curtis Jones Jr putting in huge individual efforts helped turn it around.

Rowen: Poor-shooting was the biggest factor, combined with two games against teams (Rutgers and Wisconsin) who look to slow their opponents down and force drawn-out halfcourt possessions, reducing the margin of error for their opponents. They broke out of the funk partly due to improved shooting %, and partly due to better matchups for Penn State’s offense. Pat Chambers decision to go with John Harrar and Seth Lundy in the starting lineup also deserves praise.

Marty: During the losing streak they ran into too much trouble offensively. Poor shot selection, stagnant offense, poor free throwing shooting, and sloppiness were all factors. In order to continue to right the ship they need to avoid falling into these bad habits on offense while also playing strong defense. This team is still at its best when they are playing well on defense.

Chris: They played some tough teams that were playing well at the time, two on the road. The team just kept playing hard and the wins came. We had a few guys that were ‘off’ during the stretch, but I think that would be the case if you looked at any team during a losing streak.

Tim: In the three losses, PSU’s opponents were able to slow the pace of the game, which forced the team to actually run a half-court offense. For PSU hoops, it’s a time-honored tradition in the half-court offense, where the team stands around and passes the ball around the perimeter before somebody either hoists a contested three-pointer, or attempts to drive to the hoop and loses the ball/gets their shot blocked. The wins against OSU and Michigan saw the team return to what made them a potential NCAA Tournament team to begin with, and that was playing a fast-paced style, with their share of fast break points.

Eli: The team ran into a brick wall (no pun intended) in their three game losing streak, playing one half of good basketball in each game. Twice they held leads in the first half, and once they made a valiant comeback attempt that came short. In their two wins, they dictated the pace of play and made their shots. Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Q: Penn State got its first road win (non-Northwestern, non-Nebraska) in Big Ten play last week. What stood out to you in the game?

Clay: Michigan couldn’t find water from a boat, but every time they drew within striking distance Penn State found an answer, which was encouraging.

Rowen: It lacked the qualities of a fluke road win, and Penn State appeared to be the best team on the court. It’s not shocking that the Nittany Lions looked better than this iteration of the Wolverines, especially without Livers, but it was nice to see them prove it for 40 minutes on the road. On a somewhat concerning note, the only real difference between the win over Michigan and loss to Minnesota on the road was that Curtis Jones caught fire against Michigan.

Marty: After a hot start to the game, Penn State hit an offensive lull about halfway through the first half and let Michigan come storming back. In past years, the Nittany Lions 100% would have failed to recover and gone on to lose this game. This team, however, continues to prove they are different than past years by surviving that period of the game to go on to a comfortable victory.

Chris: Stuck with the game plan. It looked like Penn State was a better team on that day and thankfully there weren’t too many cases where the team went off the tracks, playing outside the framework of what was working.

Tim: Michigan was kind enough to help out their local Habitat For Humanity by building a brick house with all those shots they missed. Some of that you can credit PSU with playing solid defense, but Michigan’s players also had their share of decent looks at the basket, but couldn’t convert. This, despite PSU seemingly trying to hand Michigan the game with numerous dumb fouls and turnovers. Curtis Jones catching fire off the bench also helped keep the Wolverines at bay.

Eli: I don’t want to take away from Penn State’s win, because it’s been a long time since the Lions won at Michigan, but it definitely looked like the Wolverines could have used Isaiah Livers in this game. They looked out of sorts for long stretches of the game, and the one time they responded to a Nittany Lion run, they immediately followed it up by going cold and allowing a Penn State run that would prove to be the dagger in the end. The Lions simply played their own game instead of letting the other team dictate the pace. Also they were wearing pink and black. We all know how those games go.

Q: The Lions could finish with a winning record in January for the first time in Pat Chambers’ tenure. How do they do it?

Clay: Make your home your fortress. The BJC stinks, but it’s still home. Don’t let Indiana come on the road and take your home.

Rowen: Can’t let the success go to their heads and take wins over Indiana or Nebraska for granted.

Marty: Penn State needs to play smart basketball, be strong on defense, do not get sloppy on offense, and do not force shots. When the Nittany Lions are doing this they are a tough out and if they can play that way on Wednesday night they’ll walk away victorious over the Hoosiers.

Chris: I think in the past the team had some pretty brutal trips that they made in early January. At Michigan State, etc. The team played 4 home games out of 7, so that helps. It also helps that they are not the 12th or worse best team in the league this year, more like top-7, so they will be favored to win more often than not.

Tim: Beat Indiana.

Eli: I second Rowen’s sentiment. In the three-game losing streak, especially the first loss, it seemed like they thought they’d show up to the gym and come out with a victory. Hopefully the streak proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that if you don’t put your best foot forward every day, you’ll lose.

Q: Are you surprised by the Big Ten standings at the moment?

Clay: A bit. Sparty, Maryland and even Illinois don’t shock me. But I expected Michigan to be better and what the hell is this Rutgers nonsense?

Rowen: Every time I check the conference standings I do a double-take. MSU at the top and Northwestern and Nebraska at the bottom are the only certainties at this point. I expect the standings will look much different come March. That said, at this point any movement in the standings save a collapse from Sparty or a sudden rise from the Wildcats or Huskers would not surprise me at all.

Marty: Yes. While I expected the Big Ten to be deep this season, I did not expect to see the amount of parity that we have. Nine different Big Ten teams have been ranked at some point this season and at least 11 remain in contention for a NCAA Tournament bid. Craziness.

Chris: Kind of. I’m not surprised that there’s a bunch of teams in a clump, that is expected with 10 or more teams expected to make the tournament. Other than two teams, the rest of the league is playing to make the tournament. Illinois may not end up winning the Big Ten, or in the top three even, but their team is very good. I’m glad they are getting the national attention, which they deserve.

Tim: Illinois and Rutgers have the same number of conference wins as Michigan State, just like everyone projected. This is what happens when [e.d. note: the rest got cut off].

Eli: I’m surprised that Rutgers is in sole possession of second place in the Big Ten. I knew Illinois was going to be good, but didn’t think they’d be “tied for first halfway in” good. I’m surprised that Ohio State and Michigan are fighting for a .500 finish in conference play at this point, especially given how both of them started this year.

Q: What are we looking for in the coming week?

Clay: Myles Dread to magically rediscover his shooting stroke.

Rowen: It sure would be nice to have one, or even two, stress-free wins.

Marty: While you would like to see a 2-0 week, the key this week is to not lose at Nebraska on Saturday. The Cornhuskers are a bad basketball team and that is a loss that Penn State can not afford, even if it is on the road.

Chris: Two wins. Michigan was able to take care of Nebraska, on the road, without Livers or Simpson. Penn State will bring a better team to Lincoln, so it is very important for the team to play well and if possible, get a second Big Ten road win. As for Indiana, it should be a battle, but at home, in front of a very supportive crowd, the Lions should prevail.

Tim: More consistency out of Curtis Jones.

Eli: I would like to see a game where Penn State doesn’t go more than two minutes without scoring a basket. Is that too much to ask?