Off to a strong 6-2 start to the season, Micah Shrewsberry and the Penn State Nittany Lions welcomed the 5-4 Michigan State Spartans to the Bryce Jordan Center for their Big Ten opener on Wednesday night. Looking to avoid being .500 or worse through 10 games for the first time in 18 years, Mike Izzo’s squad was able to do just that in a 67-58 victory.
After Michigan State jumped out to a 4-2 lead, Penn State went on to control much of the first half. The Spartans did not lead again until taking a 35-33 lead in the final minute of the half. However, a Jalen Pickett floater and a Seth Lundy block on back-to-back possession led to the game being tied at 35 at the break.
Penn State’s first half offense, as has been the case thus far this season, was sparked by the three-ball. The Nittany Lions sunk seven first half threes, including two each from Cam Wynter and Myles Dread, on their way to out scoring the Spartans by 12 from three-point land in the first half.
The second half opened up with the Nittany Lions forcing a turnover that led to a Lundy three. This three by Lundy got him into double digits on the ninth and gave the Nittany Lions a 38-35 lead.
This was the start of a back-and-forth stretch in the second half.
After there had been 10 lead changes in the second half, the Spartans started to gain control. A.J. Hoggard assisted a Tyson Walker three-pointer with 6:51 remaining in the game. This gave the Spartans their biggest lead of the game to that point at 56-52 and it was followed by a Nittany Lion turnover.
This was part of a huge night for Hoggard. The Pennsylvania native scored a career high 23 points to go with 7 rebounds. He also had a huge block when Wynter appeared to have an easy breakup layup that would have pulled the Nittany Lions within 4 with 45.9 seconds remaining.
Down the stretch the Nittany Lions played very poorly. The Spartans took a 49-48 lead with 11:01 remaining in the game, this was the start of a 20-10 run by Michigan State to finish the game. Despite the Spartans shooting poorly in the game’s final 11 minutes the Nittany Lions failed to take advantage.
Four Factors Analysis
Players of the Game
Jalen Pickett - 13 points, 17 rebounds, 8 assists
Picket was, once again, all over the court for the Nittany Lions. He was by far Penn State’s best player and came up just short of his second triple double of the season.
A.J. Hoggard - 23 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists
Hoggard was the best player on the court Wednesday night. If not for his performance, the Spartans very likely would have been on the losing end.
Jalen Pickett continues to stir the drink - Entering the season Jalen Pickett was expected to be one of the best players in the Big Ten. Thus far, he has been just that while also being Penn State’s best player. From setting up the offense and distributing the ball, to his ability to drive to the rim and sink important jump shots he continues to be the straw that stirs the Nittany Lion drink.
Nittany Lions can push the tempo when it’s there - The Nittany Lion offense is one that is built around the three-ball, but it is also one that push the tempo when the opportunity to do so presents itself. We saw this at times on Wednesday night, leading to easier paths to the rim and Nittany Lion players drawing fouls as the Spartans looked to slow them down.
Missed second half free throws hurt Penn State - The Nittany Lions had four free throw attempts within the first few minutes of the second half but missed three of them. Dread also missed the front end of a one-and-one whole trailing 62-56 with 1:50 left in the game. These missed free throws proved to be costly.
Up next for the Nittany Lions is a huge Big Ten road test. Penn State will travel to Champaign on Saturday afternoon for a noon tip against no. 17 Illinois. Penn State’s battle against the Illini will be broadcast on BTN.