Series Grades: NIT Season Tip-Off
Penn State took part in the NIT Season Tip-Off games at the Barclays Center during Thanksgiving week. The Nittany Lions fell to Ole Miss after leading big at halftime, falling 74-72, but also rocked Syracuse 85-64 in a bounce-back victory. Let’s hand out some series grades for the Nittany Lions’ performance.
It was an uneven week for Penn State scoring the basketball, looking superb at times and not so much at other times. The Nittany Lions outscored Ole Miss 43-27 in the first half, balancing physically dominant performances from Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins. The second half was a different story, as Penn State lost its shot and was outscored by the Rebels 47-29, which starting heating up while the Nittany Lions got away from their effective interior offense that has been successful so far this season. Settling for shots didn’t help, but neither did what appeared to be a lack of specific strategy on how to get easy buckets when Penn State needed to close out a big game.
The Nittany Lions had a stronger effort in the 21-point victory over Syracuse, scoring 85 points against Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. Watkins and Stevens again teamed up for a big night, and Myreon Jones joined in on the fun with 16 points and three assists. Consistency is the everlasting battle that Penn State is fighting, but putting up big points against the Orange gives hope that the Nittany Lions can be a strong offensive team.
Although letting Ole Miss get red-hot in the second half of the loss hurts the case for a strong grade here, Penn State did make an effort to apply pressure on the Rebels’ perimeter attempts. Ole Miss wasn’t going to be denied in its comeback, shooting 43% from 3-point land for the game. Penn State defended very well in the first half, holding the Rebels to just 27 points by playing fast and aggressive.
The Syracuse game was a more even effort defensively for the Nittany Lions, which held the Orange to 64 points and 27 in a competitive first half. The Orange were held to a putrid 33% from the field, and Penn State dominated its opponent on the glass with 56 rebounds to Syracuse’s 29, including 22 offensive rebounds to just eight from the Orange. A strong rotation of players willing to sacrifice their bodies to cause turnovers helped win this one for Penn State, and the depth proved valuable against an Orange team that might be the least talented one that Boeheim has fielded in years.
It wasn't the worst week ever for Pat Chambers and his staff, but it certainly was not a great one for a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations looking to shed an identity of mediocrity. Penn State has the talent and depth to make noise in the Big Ten, but being unable to find a way to get a few stops to close out a game with a 19-point lead is frankly unacceptable for a team with such lofty goals. With a chance to win or tie the game on the last play, why weren’t Lamar Stevens or Mike Watkins getting the chance to make a play? That’s a head-scratching move by Chambers. On the bright side, Penn State bounced back with a strong all-around game against Syracuse. But consistent efforts are what Penn State needs to have to end the season with a tournament bid instead of the ups and downs of seasons prior.
Jeremy Ganes is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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