Game Grades: Wisconsin
Penn State took the floor for its first conference home game of the year against the Wisconsin Badgers last night. Coming into this game, the Nittany Lions were rolling, only losing two games on the year. The Badgers, on the other hand, were struggling as they lost their last two games prior to making the trip to Happy Valley. The latter was an embarrassing 83-58 loss to Ohio State on their home court.
This all changed, however, when they topped the Nittany Lions 64-63 in a thriller at the Bryce Jordan Center Monday night. Here are the game grades for the Nittany Lions.
The Nittany Lions struggled offensively, specifically in the latter portions of the first half and first couple minutes of the second half. It was not so much the lack of shots they were taking, but more so the lack of ball movement once they setup on the offensive side of the court.
In addition to finishing the first half 0 of 6 from the field, there were multiple times that the Nittany Lions had zero-pass or one-pass possessions and then would fire up a shot with a lot of time still left on the shot clock. This tendency by the Nittany Lions would have paid off if their shots were falling, but they hit a drought early in the second half. This allowed the Badgers to work as big as a 17-point lead with just under 10 minutes left in the game.
However, the Nittany Lions’ offense was sparked by senior guard Shep Garner who has come alive over the past two games. After having a slow start to the year, Garner has flipped the switch. He led the Nittany Lions from downtown against the Hawkeyes, netting four 3-pointers. Last night, he finished with a season-high 13 points, converting on 6 of 7 shots from the charity stripe.
Sophomore forward Mike Watkins was the difference-maker for the Nittany Lions, both on the offensive and defensive end of the court. He led the Nittany Lions in scoring, totaling a game-high 22 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
While Sophomore guard Tony Carr played well last night, it was not up to his standards. Carr has proven that he can put up 25 to 30 points a night, but finished only with 16 against Wisconsin.
The Nittany Lions’ defense, specifically their full-court, 3-2 zone press, was what kept them in the game following a 17-point deficit halfway through the first half. This deficit was not due to the lack of good defense from the Nittany Lions, but more so their inability to knock down shots.
When they upped the pressure with just under 10 minutes left in the second half by switching to this zone, the entire dynamic of the game changed. This adjustment allowed the Nittany Lions to make their comeback run, even though it was not enough to take home the win.
Watkins made his presence known on defense, totaling seven blocks while limiting Wisconsin All-American junior forward Ethan Happ to 3 of 12 from the field.
Penn State head coach Pat Chambers did all he could possibly to do keep his team in this game, it was simply their lack of execution that resulted in the loss.
The decision to switch into a full-court, 3-2 zone press by Chambers catalyzed the Nittany Lion offense by translating turnovers into points. If it were not for this adjustment later in the game, it is likely that the Badgers would have kept building their already comfortable lead.
The only drawback of Chambers’ performance last night was his decision not to call a timeout in the Nittany Lions’ final possession of the game when they trailed 64-63. With the shot clock off and just under 15 seconds to go, Chambers could have called a timeout and set up a play. Instead, he let the clock tick down while Carr fired up an ill-advised shot with just over six seconds left.
Whether or not to call a timeout late in the game to set up a play varies on a case by case basis, but the shot taken by Carr was not a high percentage one, and this could have been prevented by a Penn State timeout.
Cooper Deck is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.