Eastern Michigan brought plenty of length and athletic ability to the Jordan Center for a game against Penn State Saturday afternoon. But the Eagles brought something else, too.
A serious attitude.
With talented 6-foot-10 freshman James Thompson leading the way, EMU did more barking and posturing and pushing than any opponent had shown against the Nittany Lions all season.
And that was just fine, as far as PSU coach Pat Chambers was concerned.
“I knew it was gonna be a physical, toughness game,” Chambers said. “I was proud of the way we responded. … I knew they would challenge us and our manhood, but I felt like we stepped up and rose to the occasion.”
The Lions were more than up to the task, doing most of their talking with their play. Using great ball movement against the EMU zone, playing excellent defense in stretches and controlling the boards (49-32), Penn State (5-2) led by as many as 23 in the second half before cruising to an 81-70 victory.
But the physical play led to scary moment in the second half, when PSU’s springy 6-foot-3 Isaiah Washington drove baseline and tried to dunk over Thompson. Instead, Washington was slammed hard to the floor.
The play resulted in a common foul and a technical foul on Thompson, who was yapping at the Nittany Lions and the officials all game.
“I thought that brought out the best of us,” Garner said. “We’re a tough, gritty team, too. We actually liked it. We were pumped because that was the first time someone tried to punch us in the mouth — literally.”
Chambers had mixed emotions on the play.
“(Washington) tried to dive through the rim — that’s a freshman right there showing some toughness,” the coach said. “He attacked the big man. That was awesome. On the flip side, he banged his head really hard and you feel for him and want to make sure he’s OK. So there were a lot of emotions. I made sure after the game to make a point of (saying) how proud I was of him attacking the rim like that. Sometimes, we settle for those corner threes and that time he didn’t. I thought that showed a lot of courage. We’re starting to develop these young guys, they’re starting to get there.”
Washington shook off the hard hit and continued to play.
Penn State got a career high 27-points and 12 rebounds from senior forward Brandon Taylor.
Taylor was only credited with three assists in the game. But a lot of the passes he made out of the high post started the ball movement that led to baskets. When he was not in the paint, he was sneaking out beyond the arc for open 3-pointers himself.
“I give a lot of credit to Taylor, he had an unbelievable game inside and out,” Eastern coach Rob Murphy said. “He shot the ball well. He made good basketball plays.”
“That’s something I worked on most of the summer — my mid-range game and passing out of the zone,” Taylor said. “Because that’s more important than actually scoring. … I just found my teammates and was confident they’d make the shot.”
Chambers loved what he saw from his senior captain.
“He’s so versatile right now,” Chambers said. “He’s in the post, he attacked (Thompson) the one time on a post up. He kicked out for threes and he drove it. He’s playing at a really high-level right now.”
COMING UP BIG
How well was the PSU offense operating during the 14-2 second half run that blew the game open? Consider that six of those 14 points came on passes out of the post from 7-foot-1 center Jordan Dickerson for wide open triples by Taylor and forward Payton Banks.
Before Saturday, Dickerson had three assists on the season and never had more than one in a game in his career.
TAKING WHAT THEY’RE GIVING
Four days after scoring a career-high 30 points (and making eight 3-pointers), Garner was only 2 of 6 from the arc Saturday. But he was still effective.
Once he realized he did not have the shot going, he focused more on distributing. That led to six assists and only one turnover. He was also 8 of 8 from the free-thrown line. So all told, he had 16 points. Not a bad effort on a poor overall shooting night (3 of 11).
STAT OF THE DAY
Penn State was 28 of 38 from the free throw lines, but made eight in a row in the final two minutes. EMU was 20 of 31.
• Banks also had a career high for the Lions with 17.
• Thompson had 18 points and 14 rebounds to pace the Eagles.
• Attendance was listed as a (by far) season-best 10,303.
• The Lions are at George Washington Tuesday for a 7 p.m. tip.