Life as a Nittany Lions isn’t always easy. In a constant state of (re)building, Penn State basketball often finds itself in a mere underdog role, watching as other teams around them ascent to heights they can only dream. As such, plenty of would-be seniors in this roster chose to ascend to such heights themselves, but as part of other teams. Each and every one of them has found success to varying degrees, and maybe all will experience what the NCAA tournament has to offer.
One such player, however, chose to stick around. John Harrar bleeds blue and white, and after briefly putting his name in the transfer portal, his heart simply wasn’t in it. Coming back to his beloved Nittany Lions this season, he’s simply been nothing short of amazing, all things considered. Harrar, along with Kofi Cockburn, lead the conference in double-doubles. He’s second to the aforementioned Cockburn in total rebounds per game, but leads the conference in offensive boards.
Pegged as the heart and should of the team, Harrar isn’t likely to see an NCAA tournament in his career, unlike his former teammates, but what he will see is his name being firmly entrenched in the Nittany Lion lore, paving a path for a future where, when the definition of hard work and dedication are searched, Harrar’s picture is the first result.
As per the game played tonight, both teams started hot. Northwestern, as they usually do, moved the ball pretty well and got a number of its baskets off assists. Penn State took a different approach early.
After the hot start by each team, they cooled off considerably to close the half. Once Penn State started to miss shots, they started turning the ball over. The Lions’ seven in the half allowed Northwestern slowly build a six-point lead they would take into the half. This happened with Wildcat guard Boo Buie sitting on the bench with two fouls, which seemed to have killed the flow for both Northwestern and Penn State.
The second half started just like the first, with each team finding the basket early and often. The Nittany Lions made more of an effort to get the ball inside in the second, something they had trouble doing successfully in the first half.
Northwestern, astutely, switched defenses in the middle of the onslaught, which took Penn State out of their rhythm and started settling for shots, which, unsurprisingly, were not falling as easily as they were earlier in the half.
Just when it looked like Northwestern was going to take over for good, Dallion Johnson decided to be the hero of the game. Two straight three-point make made a five point deficit quickly turn into a one-point lead. The teams would trade leads for a couple of possessions thereafter, but Johnson, once again, would make yet another three to get Penn State the lead for good.
Four Factors Analysis
For as bad as the first half numbers were, the second half more than made up for it, as they Lions ended up going over a point per possession for the contest. The offensive rebound rate also did wonders to make up for the wide gap in turnover margin, as the Lions were able to get a number of second chance opportunities when they weren’t coughing the ball up unprovoked.
Player Of The Game
This was going to be John Harrar by default, barring an abysmal performance by the senior. Described as the heart and soul of the team, Harrar was his usual self, catching every rebound in sight (20, to be exact, a new career high) while also scoring 11 points and adding a block for good measure. Honorable mention goes to Dallion Johnson, whose rapid-fire flurry of threes in the closing minutes of the game ensured Penn State would be up for good.
Going inside - The Nittany Lions found success doing what they do best: They played through the contact inside, and once Northwestern started to bite, the Lions started to kick the ball out for easy threes. That’s how they were able to come back in the second half.
Cold at the wrong times - Penn State started hot in both halves, but as each half progressed, they found themselves missing a number of shots that allowed Northwestern to build leads each time. In the second half, once the Wildcats switched to a zone, Penn State started to settle for too many jumpers, a number of which came late in the shot clock. It wasn’t until the aforementioned heroics by Johnson that the Lions would once again start to work the inside out game to success.
It’s not Penn State without drama - The Nittany Lions, up 10 with under a minute to play, committed two dumb fouls to let Northwestern back in the game. Up four with 39 seconds to play, Sam Sessoms turned the ball over yet again, which nearly allowed the Wildcats to make a would-be demoralizing three. Luckily, Chase Audige missed the shot, and Seth Lundy made his free throws on the other end.
Thank you seniors - Whether you started at Penn State or elsewhere, you’ll forever be a Nittany Lion! Thank you for making this season as entertaining, and as promising for the future, as it has been.
Penn State is back on the court on Sunday, as they host Nebraska in the final home game of the season. Tip-off is at 7 Pm Eastern, and the Big Ten Network has the call.