Micah Shrewsberry’s first Penn State team prides itself on defense.
The Nittany Lions came into Thursday’s game against Minnesota third in the Big Ten in scoring offense and 14th in scoring offense.
Although Shrewsberry would surely like for his squad to not be last in the conference in scoring, those stats aren’t entirely by accident.
Shrewsberry coached in the Big Ten for four seasons as an assistant at Purdue, and understands that, to succeed in the conference, teams need to bring their lunch pails and be ready to grind out “ugly” wins, and that’s the mindset he’s trying to instill in his first season as head coach.
So when Penn State gave up 76 points in a loss at Minnesota this past Saturday, he wasn’t too happy, and he knew things had to be better in the rematch with the Gophers just five days later.
“ I told them, that was one of our worst defensive performances of the year when we went there on Saturday, Shrewsberry said. “But this is a resilient group, and I knew they’d bounce back.”
The Lions bounced back in a big way, holding Minnesota to 46 points and 32.1 percent shooting in a 67-46 win.
Penn State followed up holding No. 19 Michigan State to 56 points in an upset win Tuesday night with another strong defensive outing.
“I’m just proud of our guys,” Shrewsberry said “Putting two defensive efforts like that back to back on the heels of what we did Tuesday.”
Minnesota’s Eric Curry had 22 points in the first meeting with Penn State.
He had just one in the second.
Payton Willis, who came in averaging 16 points a night, scored just five.
“The first game, he was comfortable in what he wanted to do off the ball screen,” Penn State’s Jalen Pickett, who had a game-high 20 points in the win, said. “He had 19 points (in the first game), so we definitely tried to wear him out on the offensive end.”
Minnesota’s leading scorer, Jamison Battle, scored 16 points, which was eight more than the next closest Gopher, but couldn’t prop up the rest of the platoon nearly as much as he would have needed to.
“I talked to our guys about our plan, our defensive plan. Like I said, that was one of our four worst defensive efforts of the season the last time we played them. (Minnesota) played great… I told them to do it harder, do it better, stick to the game plan. We were really active off the ball, so I don’t think he got as many clean looks as he did the last time.”
With Penn State’s next three conference games against Maryland, Northwestern and Nebraska— teams with a combined record of 9-34 in the Big Ten— defensive efforts like Thursday’s could well get the Nittany Lions, who are 6-9 in the Big Ten, back to .500 in conference play.