When you have the No. 1 strength of schedule to date according to Kenpom, losses are to be expected. When you lost one of the best players in the history of the program, and one of the best big men to go along with it, you can expect a lot of losses.
That has been the case for this Penn State team, who has seemingly reverted back to its “close, but no cigar” days. The Nittany Lions have played in several close contests this season, with four of its six losses coming by single digits. And, as has been pointed out time after time, five of those six losses were also games where Penn State held a lead at one point in the game or another.
The Nittany Lions started this game in the same way they’re so used to doing. They built a double-digit lead in the first half, finding themselves up 24-14 at the under-8 media timeout. What was different in this game, however, is that Rutgers is not the kind of team to simply erase a double-digit deficit in the span of 30 seconds, like Seton Hall and Illinois could. As such, Penn State was able to take its double-digit lead into halftime.
Penn State played a pristine first half, now it needed to play an equal, if not better, second. The Lions have made it a habit of giving games away in the second half, and the aforementioned losses above are just a few of the examples dating back to last season where the Nittany Lions simply could not match the energy they brought at the beginning of games.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, it appeared as if Penn State would be able to match the energy from the first half. The Lions would extend their lead as high as 18, until Rutgers turned the defense on and quickly cut the lead to seven with under eight minutes left in the game. If you recall to last season, this was eerily similar to the substantially large lead the Nittany Lions blew in that game, which came down to a made three-point shot by Myles Dread to seal the win.
The difference, finally, was that Penn State never gave up the lead.
Four Factors Analysis
Nice number of possessions aside, “Penn State owned the glass” is not something you normally see when the game is against Rutgers. Yet, this is exactly what happened. In fact, this was also the case against Illinois on Tuesday, but the difference in this game is the Lions made their shots to go along with their relentlessness defensively. Speaking of relentless defensively, these kinds of numbers look great when Penn State isn’t being called for foul after foul, yeah?
Players of the Game
You know Penn State had a good game when it’s difficult to choose which player to highlight in this section. And, when the team is playing the way Jim Ferry wants them to, this is exactly what should happen. Seth Lundy and Izaiah Brockington both had a “back to basics” kind of game, having 16 and 17 points respectively, to go along with a combined 13 rebounds (10 for Lundy), four assists, and five steals. Welcome back, boys!
Reputations matter, remember? - Notice how many fouls were not called when the opponent is little ole Rutgers? Penn State reached the bonus before its opponent in the second half of a game for the first time in what appears to be a lifetime.
Old habits die hard - It wouldn’t be a Penn State game if the Nittany Lions didn’t give up a large lead to make a would-be easy game a nailbiter instead.
Knights back to old habits too - Rutgers was shooting under 40% from the field (and three) for most of this game, which was reminiscent of Rutgers of old. The difference is that they’re not as relentless on the glass as they used to be. Penn State was able to capitalize on that point and staved off the Scarlet Knights’ comeback attempt.
Don’t tell Seth Davis, but ever since he wrote this fluff piece on Northwestern basketball, they’ve lost the past six games. The Nittany Lions try to make it seven on Saturday, as they face the Wildcats at 7 PM on the Big Ten Network.