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Penn State vs. Rutgers Preview: Lions Seek Getting Back on the Winning Track

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Can the Lions make it three out of their last four in Big Ten play?

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a great past week for Micah Shrewsberry and the Penn State hoops program, winning back-to-back Big Ten games including one at home over Indiana and a come-from-behind road win at Northwestern, and giving a top five Purdue team all it could handle. Despite coming off a loss to Purdue, the team still has some serious momentum going for it, and a win tonight over Rutgers at home would go a long way towards sustaining said momentum.

That being said, this is a Rutgers team that as of late, as started to look like the Rutgers team that most pundits pegged as a middle-of-the-conference-pack and NCAA Tournament-worthy one. They currently sit at 3-1 in the Big Ten, which includes an upset win over Purdue in dramatic fashion, as well as a win over Michigan (albeit, a COVID and injury-depleted Michigan), and would love nothing more than to notch their first road win in conference play to make their tournament resume even flashier.

Scouting The Opposition

Ron Harper, Jr. leads the scoring attack for the Scarlet Knights, as the tenth-year senior currently averages over 16 points and seven rebounds per game. Harper has lately been shooting a sizzling 14-of-22 (64 percent) from three-point range in Big Ten play and it will be imperative for PSU to not allow him or Harper’s fellow backcourt mate Geo Baker to go off like Purdue’s sharpshooters did last Saturday.

Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell prides himself off of teams that play hard-nosed defense and make you earn your points, which explains why one of their best KenPom rankings fall under adjusted defensive efficiency (62nd out of 358 Division 1 teams).

Another battle to watch will be the one down low between John Harrar and Rutgers’ Cliff Omoruyi, who averages nearly 12 points and seven boards per game. There’s a good chance you’ll see Greg Lee and Jalanni White also get their shots at Omoruyi.

What To Watch For

Jalen Pickett appears to be fully adjusted to the pace of Big Ten basketball after going through a bit of an adjustment period. He will need to pick up where he left off against Purdue, where he led the team in scoring with 21 points. Seth Lundy also needs to get going sooner than he did against Purdue, and Sam Sessoms will need to shake off being a non-factor against Purdue and become a factor again tonight for the back court. The front court rotation of Harrar/Lee/White will need to hold their own per usual, but they are very close to having Jevonnie Scott join in on the fun, as Micah Shrewsberry noted in his press conference yesterday. Whether Scott actually sees the floor at all tonight is another thing, but it’s something to keep an eye out for.

Additionally, tonight marks the return of the Legion of Blue student section, with Spring semester having started this week, as well as tonight being the annual THON game, in which proceeds from every ticket purchased will go towards the Four Diamonds Fund.

Prediction

Despite a three-week layoff due to a COVID outbreak, Penn State not only seemed to shake off the rust, but looked like a much-improved product from November/December. Major props go out to Coach Shrews and his staff for coaching and developing this roster that was scrapped together from holdovers from Pat Chambers/Jim Ferry and guys that Shrews grabbed from the transfer portal upon arriving in Happy Valley last March. Rutgers is also a team that has struggled on the road this season, where they are currently winless. With the Lions playing with their newfound confidence, I don’t see tonight being the night where Rutgers ends their road woes.

Penn State 68, Rutgers 62