PHILADELPHIA — For a team like Penn State Basketball, it is hard to set expectations for a game against the No. 1 team in the nation. Pull off the upset, and it can be a season defining moment, lose and that was expected.
The Nittany Lions played an incredible first half in front of a raucous environment at the Palestra that saw them lead 37-31 heading into the break. When the tough shots stopped falling and Purdue got into a rhythm on offense, the game fell apart quickly in the second half.
This game exposed a lot of the flaws that Penn State Basketball was able to overcome against lesser opponents in previous contests and provided a lot of questions going forward.
Takeaways from the Game and What is Next:
Front Court Issues Exposed
Going into the game we knew that stopping Zach Edey would be an issue.
After all, Penn State Basketball had previously struggled with the smaller front courts of the mid-major teams in their non-conference schedule. Add a 7-foot 4 295 pound center to that and you get a 30 point and 13 rebound performance.
Kebba Njie played 21 minutes and was the only true forward to play against Edey other than a brief 3 minute stretch by Michael Henn in the first half.
Often, the Nittany Lions went small with either 6 foot 6 Seth Lundy or Evan Mahaffey as the tallest players on the floor. Despite all of this the help defense in the 1st half seemed to keep Edey somewhat in check and the baskets he did make were overshadowed from the terrific shooting performance by Penn State.
However, as the game wore on the constant pressure on stopping Edey opened up the floor for the Boilermakers guards to hit some 3 pointers that would end up icing the game.
While Purdue may be the toughest matchup for the Nittany Lions’ front court in the Big Ten when it comes to pure size, there are still going to be plenty of teams that Penn State is disadvantaged against going forward.
Having to lean on a freshman center as the main source of size to stop a lot of these experienced big men will continue to be problematic. Michael Henn is a liability defensively and makes him basically unplayable.
Where Caleb Dorsey has gone continues to remain a mystery.
Dorsey hasn’t played in the last 4 games with an undisclosed injury, but even before that it seemed he was being fazed out for Kebba Njie.
I understand that Njie is a 4-star freshman that will be crucial for the upcoming development of this program, but Dorsey is also just a junior and offers a lot more than Michael Henn to the long-term success of Penn State. I felt like he was serviceable in the games he was able to play this season and offered more offensive power than Njie, especially from beyond the arc.
Shrewsberry Game Management a Concern
This has been noticeable in previous games, but it appears that Micah Shrewsberry lets his guys play a little too much when the other team is making a scoring run.
We saw it against Michigan where the Wolverines responded with a 14-0 run after Penn State had fought back to tie the game. We saw it again on Sunday where the Nittany Lions gave up a 19-5 run to open the second half before Shrewsberry finally called a timeout.
The game swung from a 37-31 Nittany Lion lead to 50-42 in favor of the Boilermakers.
The prime opportunity to take the timeout was when Caleb Furst made a three to give Purdue the lead back 39-37 with an 8-0 spurt to start the second half with just 1:34 off the clock. Instead the call wasn’t made and Purdue was able to flip momentum and quiet the loud Palestra environment and seemingly cruise the rest of the second half.
This inability to use timeouts to stop momentum may be inexperience or a coaching style. We saw when Purdue was up 16 and Penn State got two quick baskets to cut the lead to 12, Matt Painter immediately called a timeout to regroup and it took the crowd out of it for the next possession.
This might be a minor issue that this team has this season, but even so every small decision can be the difference between making and missing the tournament when you are a bubble team.
Palestra Environment was Outstanding
I have gone to plenty of Penn State basketball games in my lifetime, but nothing ever tops the environment at the Palestra games.
The stands are on top of the court, the metal roof traps the sound, and the building gets so hot that it causes irritation with everyone watching.
By contrast, the Bryce Jordan Center is dark, quiet, and empty for most games.
Even when Penn State Basketball is contending to reach the NCAA tournament, the only way to fill up the arena is by having over half of the 15k in attendance be students. If a game isn’t on a weekend and the team is bad, forget those dreams of opening that black curtain that attempts to hide the lack of interest in basketball at Penn State.
The Palestra takes Penn State basketball back in time and allows older fans a chance to reminisce about Rec Hall and younger fans like myself an opportunity to experience what life was like before the opening of quite possibly the worst basketball arena in the Big Ten.
Penn State Basketball has played 9 home games this season and have not opened up the upper level for any of them. The highest attended game was against Michigan State right before winter break that saw 8,302 fans watch a 67-58 loss to the Spartans.
The Palestra was at 100% capacity on Sunday evening with 8,722 packed in and the noise level was something that you just don’t get at the BJC. New Athletic Director Pat Kraft seems to be putting a bigger emphasis on the basketball program, something that hasn’t really been done by any AD quite possibly in school history.
One of the first things on the agenda should be figuring out what to do with the BJC, but I’ll leave that discussion for the offseason.
Penn State continues the tough stretch when they return to the BJC to face another tough opponent in Indiana. While the Hoosiers fell out of the AP Poll after some tough losses last week, they are still the 4th highest receiving votes and were a preseason pick by many to win the Big Ten.
Indiana enters the game ranked #25 in the NET and #22 in Ken Pom. Penn State Basketball enters #63 in the NET and #54 in Ken Pom. This will be a big opportunity for Penn State to play themselves back into the NCAA tournament picture as they currently sit on the outside looking in.
Wednesday January 11th
Indiana 10-5 (1-3) 7:00 PM BTN