Penn State’s 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana at the Jordan Center Saturday night was not all that surprising to anyone who had been paying attention to the respective teams’ schedules.
The Hoosiers entered the game at 9-1 in the Big Ten, tied for first place. But much had been made about just how weak their conference slate had been.
Six of those wins were against teams that currently sport losing B1G records. Three of them were against teams that have yet to capture a league game (two vs. 0-11 Minnesota, one vs. 0-11 Rutgers).
But NOBODY was keeping tabs on the Nittany Lions’ Big Ten slate, which, as it turned out, was sort of the polar opposite of IU’s. Heading into Saturday night’s action, Pat Chambers' squad was 2-8 in the league.
The eight teams that had defeated PSU in conference play are now all over .500 in the league. All told, they had an impressive B1G record of 67-29. That’s just under a .700 clip.
PSU had only two games vs. sub-.500 league teams and won them both (over Minnesota and now 4-7 Northwestern).
Which may explain why IU coach Tom Crean was in no mood for talk of just how tough the Big Ten is after his team was clipped by a sub-.500 team. The Hoosiers play host to 9-1 Iowa and then travel to streaking 7-4 Michigan State this week, so the last thing he needs is to be reminded of the grind that lies ahead.
“Oh yeah, it’s a really good league,” Crean snapped.
As salty as he was at times, Crean talked up Penn State forward Brandon Taylor. And with good reason.
Taylor scored a game-high 24, muscling his way inside and going 4 of 9 from the arc. Nobody from IU could handle him
“We did not answer the bell on Taylor like we needed to,” Crean said.
He added, “With guys like Brandon Taylor, who is a four-year player … you have to do your work early on a player like that. When he catches it, it’s very hard to guard him. We lost a little concentration on how we wanted to defend him, especially with other people. It’s very hard for anybody to guard a player of that size and that strength one-on-one.”
Chambers has been using box analogies for his team all year. Saturday, he and Taylor both finally had a chance to talk about holding the upper hand vs. a quality Big Ten opponent.
“It’s big for our program,” Chambers said of the win. “It’s important on so many levels. We were obviously on a (four-game) losing streak and we were kind of on that roller coaster that I’ve been telling you guys about, a little up, a little down and it’s just nice to throw a punch and not get on the ropes and stay in the middle of the ring. That’s what we did. We stayed in the middle of the ring and they believed. They believed that they were good enough, tough enough and prepared enough to win this game.”
Added Taylor: “Throughout the season, we’ve taken a lot of punches … and not giving up is the reason why we came out of this game with a ‘W.’ And we could’ve put our heads down. We could’ve run away, but we stuck our necks out there.”
Penn State did a nice job containing Indiana veteran guard Yogi Ferrell. The Big Ten Player of the Year candidate made only 3 of 12 shots and 1 of 6 3-pointers. He had as many turnovers as assists (five each).
BY THE NUMBERS
• Penn State had only seven turnovers in the game.
• G Shep Garner did not have a great shooting night for PSU (4 of 13). But that did not impact the rest of this game. He had a dozen points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and just two turnovers.
• Backup G Devin Foster was strong, hitting 5 of 6 shots for 13 points.
• Penn State’s awful free throw shooting continued. For the game, the Lions were only 10 of 16 from the stripe.
PSU freshman guard Josh Reaves was back after missing six games due to mono. He played only 10 minutes and did not score. While he was clearly rusty, he seemed as athletic as ever.
“He looked good out there, right?” Chambers said. “I didn’t want to throw him to the wolves too quickly. I was trying to give him two minutes, minute, two minutes, minute. I had it all mapped out on how I wanted to play him. I think he did a great job and then you put a kid whose been out a month in a game situation and it’s tough to do. But we have to keep putting him in those moments and he’s going to just continue to get better.”
ALL TOGETHER, NOW
All 10 of PSU’s healthy, eligible players logged at least seven minutes in the game. Chambers substituted at a frantic pace throughout the game.
It paid off as the Lions were clearly the fresher team down the stretch.
Penn State has a bye during the week before traveling to Nebraska next Saturday. The game tips at 6 p.m. and can been seen on ESPNU.