Penn State Basketball 2011
Penn State Nittany Lions vs Wisconsin Badgers Basketball Recap
Penn State 56, Wisconsin 52
Two years ago, the Penn State Nittany Lions barely missed the NCAA Tournament and, in the eyes of many observers, were wrongly snubbed by the Selection Committee. This year, the PSU crew is intent on removing as much doubt as possible from the war room of number-crunchers in Indianapolis.
Fueled by a burning desire to crash the Big Dance for the first time since 2001, Penn State is playing with uncommon hunger and tenacity at the defensive end of the floor. Another inspired effort carried the Blue and White past the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pennsylvania. The win makes it even more difficult to ignore the improbable but real truth of the matter: Penn State, ignored before the season started, is now very much in the mix for an NCAA berth. The Nittany Lions have a lot of work to do, but they’re far ahead of expert prognostications at this point in the season, and they owe it to their effort level.
Let’s understand something about this gritty triumph over a team – Wisconsin – that prides itself on winning with physical and muscular defense: Penn State is outhustling its Big Ten brethren in 2011. The Lions, who very nearly won at Ohio State and frankly should have won at Purdue save for a bad call that went against them in the final 10 seconds, are displaying a level of high-grade consistency that few people anticipated. Penn State’s core players are the same as they’ve been for the previous two seasons. Talor Battle – who went 7-of-16 from the field against Wisconsin and popped in 22 points – is the team’s best shooter and scorer. David Jackson and Jeff Brooks are looked to for boardwork and enough inside scoring to keep defenses honest, and forward Andrew Jones is a muscleman in the low post.
With 6:52 left, Wisconsin owned a 42-40 lead in a typical Big Ten grinder. Both teams had the pace they wanted, but the Badgers – one can say – are a rich man’s version of Penn State. The Badgers, you see, regularly make the NCAAs and sometimes get to the second weekend of March Madness; Penn State has failed to reach the Big Show over the past nine years and owns just three NCAA appearances since 1965. If there was reason to trust one of the two teams with 6:52 left, it stood on the Wisconsin side of the ledger. Yet, the home stretch was entirely owned by the Lions, who defended a defense-first UW ballclub into oblivion at the Jordan Center.
The record will show that Wisconsin scored 10 points in that final stretch of 6:52, but in reality, UW tallied only one basket that could be considered meaningful, something other than window dressing. With 2:09 remaining, Badger guard Jordan Taylor hit a layup to pull his team within four points of the Lions, at 48-44. The next time the Badgers scored, they trailed by seven points with 28 seconds left; it’s hard to assign too much value to a basket that trims a seven-point deficit to four in the final half-minute of regulation. Penn State, for all intents and purposes, pitched a near-shutout of a fundamentally sound halfcourt offense in seven minutes of late-stage, pressure cooker basketball. Yes, Brooks scored 12 points for Penn State, and yes, Jones snagged 14 rebounds in a man’s effort on the glass, but the story of this upset is that PSU hounded Wisconsin into the locker room, ensuring that the Badgers never got off the deck in the final seven minutes of play.
If Penn State can do things like this, it can certainly make the NCAAs in a year when the bubble doesn’t look very strong.
Something special is happening in Happy Valley, a place that’s living up to its name these days when the subject of PSU basketball emerges.
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