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Seton Hall 98, Penn State 92 (OT): Old Habits Die Hard

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Penn State lost against a team whose record is deceiving.

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

If you looked at Seton Hall’s record coming into this game, you may have thought this would, or should, be an easy out. But the Seton Hall Pirates had already played Kenpom Nos. 23 Louisville, and 24 Oregon, by the time this game was played. They’d also played a decent Kenpom No. 73 Rhode Island, making the game against the Nittany Lions the fourth against a Kenpom top-100 team in five games. For a team as young as the Pirates, that’s a lot of top-100 opponents to start the season.

Penn State, on the other hand, had only played two games due to covid protocols postponing their opener against Drexel. The disparity in games, and opponents, made for an intriguing matchup between the two teams. Was Seton Hall’s record a reflection of their quality, or was it more of a mirage, being the byproduct of having played so may tough contests to start the year? Could the Pirates really be the team the Nittany Lions would use to work some of the kinks that became apparent in the first two games?

It started with a vintage three-pointer from Myreon Jones, then a little bit of the glaring size issue presented itself almost immediately, as Seton Hall found several opportunities to go inside. The Pirates missed some easy dunks, but then started making the easy ones to quickly counter the Nittany Lions’ speed and shooting.

Jones, who was playing fairly well early, had to sit with his second foul merely five minutes into the game. Luckily, the early returns showed a team effort in this one, as four different Lions had made a three pointer on their way to a quick 11-point lead halfway into the first half.

Trent Buttrick played key early minutes, hitting his first three (and first points) of the season, which kept the Nittany Lions ahead, as the pressure mounted for the Pirates. Kevin Willard found himself having to call his second timeout after Penn State opened up a 16-point lead once the shots started falling. The Lions’ lead would grow as large as 19 before Seton Hall made its own run, taking advantage of careless Lion turnovers. The Pirates’ efforts closed the gap to 11 going into halftime.

If you’re a seasoned Penn State fan, you expected some level of collapse to balance out the great start for the Nittany Lions. You could say the Pirates comeback started late in the first half with all the turnovers, and early into the second it appeared as if the comeback would continue. A quick four points seconds into the second half set the tone for how the Pirates would play the rest of the way.

Seton Hall kept driving the ball into the post with success, and little by little they whittled down the lead to single digits, finally taking the lead with 15 minutes left in the game. From there, they played the kind of game we actually expected out of this one: a close, back and forth game with lots of lead changes and a ton of effort from both teams.

Seton Hall, after taking a timeout with the last possession of the second half, did what would be the most questionable decision of the game when, instead of taking the open lane, Myles Cale took a three point attempt that barely hit the rim.

Seton Hall’s inability to hit its free throws nearly spelled doom for them in the overtime, as they had plenty of opportunity to take over at the charity stripe, but couldn’t take advantage. That’s if you don’t count the last few free throws that they did make to seal it away, of course.

And thus Penn State lets a win slip away yet again, in a bitter reminder of all the times they went through this same agony last season.

Four Factors Analysis

This one writes itself. Seton Hall outhusled the Lions, using pressure to turn Penn State over, while taking advantage of their size to severely out rebound the home team.

Once again three-point shooting kept Lions in the game, but they’re going to need to make them at a higher clip than 38% the rest of the way, or the liability inside will become a bigger problem than it was today.

Player of the Game

This was a team effort. Several players scored in double digits, but I’m going with Myreon Jones today because it was his effort that gave Penn State the lead late in the second half and woke the rest of the team up. He had a balanced night even with having to sit a the bench, with 17 points, 2 assists, a steal, and two rebounds.

Random Observations

Still too many fouls - Penn State put Seton Hall in the double-bonus in the first half, and damn near did it again in the second. Big Ten teams will eat them alive if they keep this up.

The Pressure Pressed - As soon as Seton Hall started pressing, the Nittany Lions fell apart. A team that prides itself in turning the opposition over effectively gave up their large lead by turning the ball over, plus the aforementioned fouls.

Points in the paint - Yeah this is your routine reminder that Penn State isn’t tall.

Rawness abound - Abdou Tsimbila saw some playing time in this game. He gave some good minutes and had a highlight assist, but it’s clear that Tsimbila will need some time to get acclimated to the college game. Hope that Drexel game gets rescheduled.

Looking Ahead

The Nittany Lions take their show on the road for the first time this season when they face No. 16 Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Hokies already have a top 10 scalp this season, as they knocked off then-No. 3 Villanova, and are playing well above their “bottom of the ACC” preseason projection. Game is on Tuesday, December 8, at 9 PM Easter, and will air on ESPNU.