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Penn State 74, Wagner 54: Lions Pull Away Late

PSU used a strong second half to pull away from Wagner.

Penn State Nittany Lions forward Seth Lundy (1) grabs the rebound during the second half against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Bryce Jordan Center. Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

In what will likely become the theme of this season, Penn State found a way to turn what should have otherwise been an easy, drama-free contest into the sort of stressful situation only a team like Penn State can. The Nittany Lions needed every second of the first half to build any semblance of a lead against the Wagner Seahawks, who got the memo from the previous eight opponents to date. The formula is simple: press early and often, and the Lions will have trouble handling the intensity and turn the ball over at an alarming rate.

The biggest difference in this game was that, unlike other contests, Wagner actually forced a number of the turnovers committed, but there was no shortage of unforced errors either. With 15 minutes left in the game, the Lions had already committed 11 turnovers, well on their way to their season average of 14, and would ultimately end the game with 17.

Luckily for Penn State, they were able to find their shot in the second half, and slowly but surely, they opened up the lead into double digits, and the closest it would get the rest of the way would be 15 points.

At the expense of sounding like a broken record, the Lions are playing well enough to stay with the better teams and blow the doors off the worse ones, but all that comes crashing down when they turn the ball over as much as they do. They’ve given up several leads to teams by committing back to back turnovers, they’ve let blowouts turn into squeakers for the same reason, and, in this game’s instance, they were bailed by the litany of fouls committed on Wagner’s side, as well as the Seahawks’ on inability to make any shots of note.

Four Factors Analysis

An even 58% effective field goal percentage was heavily influenced by the second half performance, but 58% is 58% nonetheless. More importantly, a 30% differential in free throw rate bodes well for the Nittany Lions, and if they’re able to replicate that effort, they should find ways to continue to stay in games against the big boys, and there will be plenty of them upcoming in Big Ten play. I won’t belabor the point with the turnovers, as we all know where the team stands there.

Player of the Game

John Harrar had another near double double in this game, and Jalen Picket is starting to get comfortable out there. But today, I’m going with Myles Dread, the guy who won’t often fill the stat sheet, but provides a steadying presence on both offense and defense, and, when his shot falls (as was the case today), it can mean really good things for the Lions. His three 3-pointers, assist, steal (should have been two), and rebounds, won’t wow anyone, but his ability to create offensive fouls for opponents is too good to go ignored. Glue guy through and through.

Random Observations

Stick to the plan - We’ve seen this all season long: Penn State rarely plays the “stand around and hope for a miracle” offense anymore. Players are moving, looking for position, running offensive sets that hopefully lead to good shots. That’s a clear departure from years past. It hasn’t always led to wins, but setting the foundation for the future by creating good habits is a sight for sore eyes.

Live and die by the pace - Counter to the above, though, given how slow the Lions play, they need both good shots and made shots. This couldn’t be more apparent between halves int his game, as not making shots in the first half led to a tight contest, but, with 66 possessions overall, and a much better shooting percentage in the second half (41.7% in the first half to 53.8% in the second), a five-point lead quickly turned into a 23-point lead, and the Lions never looked back.

We saw just the opposite of that on Sunday, where Ohio State was able to use the Lions’ inability to make shots to build a big enough lead that they wouldn’t relent throughout.

Hey, what happened? - Wagner stopped pressing early in the second half, and the breathing room was all the Nittany Lions needed to blow the game open. Instead, they tried to pick up the pace and push the ball, but their inability to actually make shots proved to be fatal.

Boot watch - Boot was OFF for Greg Lee, who reportedly was actively participating in shootaround/warmups. Hopefully this means we see him in some game action soon enough.

Looking Ahead

Penn State heads to East Lansing to face Michigan State, who is tipping off against Minnesota as you read this. As it happens, the Spartans are one of the few teams who turn the ball over at a higher rate than the Nittany Lions. Something will give on Saturday!