2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament
2011 Big Ten Tournament Semifinals Recap
(6) Penn State 61, (7) Michigan State 48
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From the depths of mediocrity, the Penn State Nittany Lions have emerged to become an excellent team precisely when their season has demanded it. A band of basketball brothers that came to Indianapolis this week with a tiny, flickering chance of making the NCAA Tournament has transformed its outlook in three very special days.
Yes, it’s true: Penn State might not quite be a lock for the NCAAs, but with a third win as many days at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Blue and White are now right on the NCAA cut line with a very legitimate chance of being included in the field of 68. Admittedly, Penn State might very well have to play in one of Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s “First Four” games in Dayton, Ohio, but that’s a plane trip the Nittany Nation will be very happy to make. A Saturday semifinal thrashing of Michigan State at the Big Ten’s basketball bash has just made Penn State go from unlikely bubble team to likely NCAA participant.
It’s been amazing to see the extent to which Penn State has maxed out this week inside the home of the Indiana Pacers. Penn State was thoroughly, numbingly average during the Big Ten regular season, going 9-9 with a home win over Wisconsin being the team’s lone moment of distinction. Penn State very easily could have won at Purdue, and one must concede that PSU received a horrible call at the end of regulation in that game, but on an overall level, this team didn’t distinguish itself in January and February. Coach Ed DeChellis – who doesn’t get half the credit he deserves for squeezing so much out of his players – could not reinvent the wheel. He simply had to insist on a defense-first style and a modest pace that could prevent the Nittany Lions from getting sucked into track meets. Penn State teams rarely have enough weapons to win high-scoring games, but the Nittany Lions’ offense hasn’t been able to hold up its end of the bargain, and that’s why PSU came to Indy needing at least three wins to have a decent shot at the Big Dance. Now, though, those three wins have been bagged, meaning that Selection Sunday will offer legitimate drama to the residents of Happy Valley.
After outlasting Wisconsin in Friday’s 36-33 slugfest, Penn State knew it would have to score at a more reasonable clip on Saturday. When Michigan State bolted out to a 14-4 lead in the game’s first four minutes and 41 seconds, it was hard to think that PSU would be able to stand in the ring. Coach Tom Izzo’s MSU crew, emboldened by Friday’s upset of Purdue in a vintage Sparty romp, came out of the gates rocking and rolling. A veteran squad with players hardened by the fires of two straight Final Fours had seemingly regained its confidence. DeChellis had to burn a timeout before the first television timeout of the afternoon – that’s how serious the situation was for Penn State.
To their immense credit, the Nittany Lions were able to turn things around by dismantling Michigan State’s offense… and the Spartans’ confidence, which crumbled in the face of PSU’s relentless work ethic.
On Friday, sixth-seeded Penn State made Wisconsin panic in its halfcourt sets. One day later, PSU managed to turn the seventh-seeded Spartans into poor decision makers as well. After MSU reeled off those 14 early points, the Spartans ground to a halt, tallying just 34 points in the game’s final 35 minutes and 19 seconds. Michigan State hoisted threes and, on the occasions when it got the ball into the lane, couldn’t get past PSU big man Jeff Brooks, who swatted two shots but altered countless others. Michigan State couldn’t establish a low-post offense: Forward Draymond Green, who had been so good for the Spartans in November, December and early January, continued his late-season slide by hitting just 3 of 10 shots. Teammate Delvon Roe went scoreless, as MSU got thoroughly outplayed within six feet of the rim. Penn State outrebounded Michigan State by a 36-28 margin, and when Michigan State is being outworked on the boards, the Spartans have to make shots to succeed. Michigan State hit only 32 percent of its field goals, and that was pretty much the story. The Spartans failed to crack 50 points on the day, and so Penn State – though hitting only 42 percent of its shots and hitting only 10 free throws – was able to coast to the finish line.
The real breakthrough star in this game for Penn State was Tim Frazier. Talor Battle, the Nittany Lions’ superstar point guard, gets a deserved amount of publicity, but Frazier was the true revelation on Saturday. The unheralded guard in PSU’s backcourt threw down 22 points while collecting eight boards and handing out six assists. Its efforts like Frazier’s that turn NIT teams into NCAA teams.
Penn State might need to beat Ohio State in today’s Big Ten final, but even if the Nittany Lions fall short, they stand a very good chance of making the NCAA Tournament. That sentence couldn’t have been written without Tim Frazier… and without a tremendous display of resilience from a team that refused to give up on its season.
Next Game: Big Ten Tournament Championship
(6) Penn State vs. (1) Ohio State - 3:35 p.m. ET, CBS
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