Game Grades: Men’s Basketball vs. Michigan
Penn State rolled into the Crisler Center on Wednesday night riding loads of momentum coming off a huge victory versus Ohio State. That momentum proved to be present, as the Nittany Lions picked up a mammoth road win over the Wolverines 72-63.
The Nittany Lions secured a huge road win for their résumé come March as well as their first road win over Michigan since 2010. They also extend their undefeated streak to 11-0 while wearing the striking pink and black uniforms in the regular season.
Let’s hand out some game grades and see how each individual unit performed in the Nittany Lions’ rare Big Ten road win.
Lamar Stevens scored a team-high 19 points and appears to be settling into his seniority. The past two games especially, Stevens has been playing efficiently with assertiveness, exuding confidence as Penn State’s senior superstar. Stevens was great, but it was Curtis Jones Jr. who came through the most in this game. Jones Jr. put the team on his back in the second half, erupting for all of his 18 points. The transfer took it to the Michigan defense and basically got anything that he wanted. Myreon Jones also added a quiet 16 for the Nittany Lions.
There were a couple stretches where the offense was unable to execute, but other times, the execution was superb and led to many open looks. When Penn State’s role players are feeling confident and hitting their shots, the Nittany Lions become a very difficult team to beat. Penn State’s bench outscored Michigan’s 31-4, and that’s obviously a big reason why Penn State emerged victorious.
Penn State’s defense once again played lights out in a huge Big Ten showdown. The Nittany Lions put together a resilient team effort to shut down Michigan’s offensive attack. The Wolverines missed a lot of shots, but many of them were forced due to the Nittany Lions’ stifling defense.
Michigan got some transition buckets in the first half, but coming out of halftime, Penn State sharpened up on transition defense, and the Wolverines were unable to adjust.
Zavier Simpson, Michigan’s star and the nation’s assist leader, was essentially neutralized. Simpson contributes the most when he’s dishing out assists and making his teammates better. But on Wednesday, Simpson played uncharacteristically selfish, recording only six assists and forcing 3-point attempts early in the shot clock time and time again. Simpson scored 18 points in 40 minutes and threw up a career-high 23 shot attempts, but he shot just 35% from the floor and 29% from deep. Michigan as a team shot an ugly 5-for-28 from 3-point range. Accredit that to the pressure that the Nittany Lions were putting on Simpson and the Wolverines all night.
On the downside, the excessive number of fouls committed by Penn State is beginning to become a theme, and an unfavorable one. Michigan couldn’t find much offense in the second half, yet Penn State kept letting the Wolverines stick around with free-throw attempts. Michigan was in the bonus with 10 minutes remaining in the second half, which easily could have been trouble for Penn State. The aggressiveness and intensity are present, but the team can’t keep disregarding discipline.
This year, it’s been a huge challenge to win on the road in the Big Ten. Yet Pat Chambers and company went into Ann Arbor and did just that. The team has bounced back magnificently after the three-game skid to start January, and Chambers and the coaching staff deserve recognition for keeping the team focused and motivated.
The excessive fouling and great number of offensive rebounds that Penn State continues to give up is concerning. Presumably Chambers has already pointed out those issues, but they need to remain points of emphasis going forward.
However, given how difficult it is to win as a visitor in the Big Ten this year, Chambers deserves a nod for this impressive win against on the road against a great program.
Zach Donaldson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.