It had been a great past week for Micah Shrewsberry and his Penn State program, with the head coach having earned his first two Big Ten victories over good Indiana and Northwestern programs, the latter involving coming back from a ten-point second half deficit to get the dub. This set things up for an epic showdown against his former employer in No. 3 ranked Purdue.
The Boilermakers struck early, jumping out to a 7-2 start before Penn State punched back with healthy dose of Jalen Pickett, John Harrar, and Jalanni White coming off the bench. The Lions would eventually leap out to a seven-point advantage midway through the first half before Purdue went on a massive 15-3 run over the next several minutes to reclaim a lead they would only briefly relinquish before leading 35-30 at the half.
The second half saw Purdue build their lead into double digits, as PSU’s turnover issues reared their ugly head at the absolute wrong time. Furthermore, it became painfully obvious that Pickett and Harrar were forced to carry the scoring load with Seth Lundy and Sam Sessoms uncharacteristically being held scoreless. With Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic nailing a three-pointer to put the Boilers up 51-38, it seemed like the game was in danger of getting out of hand.
The Nittany Lions however, did not go away, thanks to some adjustments from Coach Shrews as well as Seth Lundy and Greg Lee beginning to back up Pickett and Harrar with the scoring. The Lions were able to claw all the way back to take a 65-64 lead on a go-ahead trey from Lee with less than four minutes to play in the game. Unfortunately, Purdue as they had pretty much the whole game, had a timely response to quiet the crowd, as the Boilers’ big man Trevion Williams answered with a hook shot and-one. This was followed by a Mason Gilllis trey to put the Boilers back up five. Lundy would answer with a trey of his own to cut the deficit down to two, but Trevion stepped up once again with another and-one play in the final minute. PSU had one last chance to cut the deficit to a single possession, but Lee and Lundy’s three-point attempts both missed the mark, and Purdue iced it with a couple of free throws in the final seconds.
As you can see, both teams did a solid job shooting the rock and were near equal when it came to crashing the boards. The difference in this one was Purdue coming up with just a few more timely shots, as well as winning the turnover battle (the Boilers had only eight turnovers to PSU’s 11). If you’re going to upset a top-five program, you have got to get it done with the little things, and PSU simply didn’t do so well enough.
Player of the Game - Jalen Pickett, 21 points, 10 assists
Perhaps the biggest joy of this season has been seeing Jalen Pickett settle into being the go-to guy in his step up to a power conference program. His confidence has certainly increased and he has developed a very smooth runner of a shot. His performance gave PSU a chance in this one towards the very end.
- A Nice Weekend Crowd - Shortly after winning at Northwestern on Wednesday night, the team social media accounts went to work on promoting the heck out of today’s game, in an effort to draw a strong crowd on what would otherwise be a quiet weekend with the students just coming back into town. The upper deck curtains in the BJC being raised was a good sign and the turnout looked pretty good on the B1G Network broadcast.
- There’s an Answer to Everything - There’s a reason Purdue is ranked third in the country and is a favorite to win the Big Ten and it showed with their ability to come up with big time shot after big time shot, every time it seemed like PSU was going to truly seize momentum. I lost count just how many times a Purdue player knocked down a timely three, or Trevion Williams a timely baby hook to quiet the crowd when PSU absolutely needed a stop.
- Hey, Nice Bench! - The Lions got 15 total points off the bench, with nine of them coming from Jalanni White, who has been a very pleasant surprise in terms of contributing to the front court, and another three each from Myles Dread and Dallion Johnson. Johnson in particular, has lately stepped up as a guy you can rely upon to give you an offensive spark off the bench, and he is being rewarded for it with more playing time, getting 11 minutes of action today. Why Jaheam Cornwall continues to start over Johnson or Dread is a mystery to me, as he unfortunately hasn’t been able to make the transition from low-major to power conference play. Hopefully, that changes soon enough.
Penn State (7-6, 2-3) will remain in the friendly confines of the BJC when they host Rutgers this upcoming Tuesday. Tipoff will be at 6:30 PM ET on B1G Network.
Enjoy some photos from today’s action, courtesy of Heather Weikel.