The Nittany Lions bomb the Spartans into submission 72-68 in a 62-possession game. StatSheet box score.
Before we get to the insanity-inducing angst part, let’s start with a couple graphical aids.
First, the four factors graph:
The Spartans did what they always do–outrebound the other team–and they did what they don’t usually do–turn the ball over fewer times than their opponent. The net result of those two things was a 13-attempt advantage in the field goal department.
Penn State had to make up quite a bit in the field goal percentage department. And make it up they did:
Led by the incomparable Talor Battle (29 points on 19 FGA), Penn State posted an astonishing effective field goal percentage of 66.7% on 10-20 three-point shooting. Battle drained six three-pointers, nearly all of them from at least several feet behind the three-point line. And Jamelle Cornley (16 points on 11 FGA) and Stanley Pringle (1o points on 7 FGA) through in some astonishing trick shots of their own.
I don’t think any player has ever made Travis Walton look like a fool on defense the way Battle did tonight. He was simply and utterly unstoppable.
Penn State only recorded 10 assists on 27 made field goals. They scored through phenomenal individual effort, rather than MSU defensive breakdowns. In a 20-minute span (between roughly the six-minute marks of each half), the Lions put up 52 points.
Could MSU have stepped up offensively and matched the Nittany Lions blow for blow? In theory, yes. But they scored 68 points in a 62-possession game. That’s a very solid offensive performance, sufficient to win most Big Ten home games. The MSU players looked a little tight at times, but they never looked frazzled. And they had enough composure and moxie (with some help from Penn State’s horrific free throw shooting) to nearly pull off a 12-point comeback.
(That’s actually a minor consolation: The fact this team has shown the ability to come back from significant deficits late in games. It seems like the last couple years, we’ve never been able to close the gap in the final minutes if we’re down more than 3-4 points. We haven’t pulled a big comeback out yet, but it’s something that could be a factor down the stretch in the conference title race.)
In short, we didn’t exactly fold. Penn State was just that good today. If you’re going to point at any negative statistical indicator on offense, it has to be three-point shooting (5-20). Coming off two superb shooting performances, Durrell Summers was just 1-8 from beyond the arc today.
This may sound like excuse making, but, to me, both our losses in conference play have been on the fluky side. Fundamentally, we remain the best team in the conference.
OK, that’s the positive, analysis-based perspective.
Here’s the negative, fan-based perspective. Despite being the best team in the league through the first half of the conference schedule, we are now basically tied with Purdue for first place, with three teams just one game back. Our situation is analogous to being tied at halftime against a team that you’ve outplayed for the first 20 minutes. That situation almost always comes back to haunt you. (Arguably, that’s what happened today–although I didn’t see most of the first half.)
The bottom line on being just 2-2 at home, despite a 5-0 road record, is that any thoughts we might have had about a runaway conference title must now be dismissed. Karma will have none of it.
This is going to be a photo finish; the two games against Purdue both seemed destined to be epic battles. And Illinois, Minnesota, and Penn State are right in the mix, ready to grab the opportunity if neither we nor the Boilermakers can win 7 or 8 more games during the remainder of conference play.
Next up: A home game against Minnesota Wednesday night (8:30, BTN) that now looks like it’s of the distinctly “must win” variety.
P.S. Talor Battle is clearly the Big Ten Player of the Year at this point. But let’s not forget that Kalin Lucas is one of only two other players in the league that’s even in the conversation (Evan Turner is the other). He’s now scored 20 points or better in 6 of our 9 conferfence games. That ninth free throw may have bounced out–and I wish he could have gotten closer to the basket on his final-second jumper–but he’s still as clutch as they get.
P.P.S. I’m going to go ahead and assume that the use of the term “walking pneumonia” in reference to Raymar Morgan is not a good thing.