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Penn State 55, Maryland 50: Lions Win Defensive Dogfight

Nittany Lions have now won three straight against the Terrapins.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing comes easy in the Big Ten. Every game is a dog fight, and any team can knock any other team off any given night.* Unless you’ve been living under a rock, this point should be obvious to you, dear reader. The Big Ten has been by far the deepest conference in the country for two seasons running, and there’s no indication that any other conference will come close.

That means, as mentioned in the opening, every game is pulling teeth. It was no different in this game, where the Nittany Lions found themselves fighting Maryland’s relentless defense, a defense reminiscent of those of former head coach Pat Chambers. In fact, the Terrapins may need to rely on relentless defense, as the roles with these two teams seem to have been reversed. Penn State is the team bringing the top 10 offense into this game, while Maryland brings the higher ranked defense. It’s Maryland coming in without a true point guard, while Penn State has two viable players at the point. It’s Penn State bringing in a fast-paced, free flowing offense, while Maryland slows down the game to a grinding halt. And, at least for the first half, it was definitely a slog.

Both teams started out ice cold from the field, points coming at a premium for the majority of the first half. As usual, Penn State’s hawkish defensive play forced 11 Maryland turnovers in the first half, which is one more what the Terps average for a game. Given how hard points were to come by, that may have been the difference maker in the half. The Nittany Lions were not immune to coughing up the ball themselves, as they turned the ball over five times in the half.

The scoring came in spurts, as the Nittany Lions started off on a 7-0 run to take the early lead. After trading baskets some, Maryland used an 11-0 run to go up nine, to which Penn State responded with a 9-0 run of their own to close out the half tied at 23. This, by the way, is the lowest scoring first half of the season for the Lions, the second lowest being 27 against Michigan earlier in the season.

All in all, the Lions were fortunate to go into the half tied, given how atrocious their shooting was in that half. Penn State went 3-of-14 from three, a mere 21.4% rate, while going 34.5% from the floor. Maryland wasn’t any better from three, but they did shoot 40.9% from the field.

The second half saw Penn State be more successful in picking up the pace, and it led to some of the things they’re used to seeing. More second chance opportunities, some actual chances at the line, and, most importantly, a gradually increasing lead, were some of the things the Nittany Lions could do once they stopped letting the Terrapins dictate the pace of the game. It wasn’t for lack of trying, however, as Maryland still tried to make it a slog in every chance they got. A combination of lanes opening up and shots falling, however, made it more difficult for the Terps to play their style.

With a little less than 10 minutes left in the game, Mark Turgeon was forced to call a timeout, as Penn State’s seven point lead seemed nearly insurmountable given how the game was played. He would turn out to be right, as the Nittany Lions simply kept Maryland at bay the rest of the way. The Terps would come close —almost taking the lead at one point, but they never did take the lead, and the Lions notched their fourth Big Ten win of the season.

It cannot be understated how being in the double-bonus halfway into the second half helped the Lions stay ahead. With the fear of missing the front end of a one-and-one gone, the Lions could just get to the rim and let Jesus take the wheel from there.

Now, the goal for Penn State is to see if they can get that elusive road win, which, if they hope to reach the NCAA tournament, they’re sorely going to need.

Four Factors Analysis

Boy oh boy, cover your eyes with this one. Your eyes don’t deceive you. Both teams went had an eFG% under 40%, and if you watched you saw why. The Nittany Lions, however, did what they’re best at by grabbing as many second chance opportunities as possible, which led to chances at the line in the second half. And, of course, Maryland had a season high in turnovers in this game as well. That’s the third team in a row to have a season high in turnovers against the Nittany Lions.

Player of the Game

This game was won with defense, but Jamari Wheeler and Myles Dread had key scores at really important times, so they get the nod tonight for ensuring the Nittany Lions notched another win.

Random Observations

When it’s not one thing it’s another - The first half looked like it would be typical foul trouble for the Lions, but the second half they seemingly all went against Maryland.

Wheeler can shoot again - And boy did the Nittany Lions need it in this game!

Ugly wins are fine - Penn State turned the ball over on nearly every possession to end the game, but somehow they managed to win. These have been the types of games that turn into losses plenty of times in the past. In fact, this is how they lost the game against Ohio State just last week.

Looking Ahead

Penn State is back on the road again, as the Lions face a surprisingly struggling Michigan State team on Tuesday, February 9. Game is at 7 PM, network yet to be determined.

*Offer not valid against Nebraska.