For coach Micah Shrewsberry, star guard Jalen Pickett and Penn State, there were a lot of negatives to take away from the team’s Big Ten opener this past Wednesday.
In a rare case where Penn State came in favored against coach Tom Izzo and Michigan State, it couldn’t get it done.
Penn State made one field goal in the last 5:07 and fell to Sparty, 67-58, at home.
Jalen Pickett’s performance was one of the night’s positives for Penn State. Pickett finished with 13 points, eight assists and a career-high 17 rebounds. Although Pickett fell two assists shy of his second triple-double of the season– he had his first and just the second in Penn State history last month against Butler— the most important thing was that Penn State lost. With a game at No. 17 Illinois next on the docket, set for Saturday afternoon, an 0-2 Big Ten start looked likely for Penn State. Pickett, Shrewsberry and Penn State came in as 11.5-point underdogs, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Just like against Michigan State, Pickett played well. He ended the day with 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Unlike the Michigan State game, Penn State won, beating Illinois, 74-59, in the biggest win of the Shrewsberry era thus far.
Pickett, a fifth-year senior who is the heartbeat of Penn State’s team, helped Penn State win in various ways.
“He’s just a warrior, man,” Shrewsberry told the Big Ten Network soon after the game. “He scores for us. He guards good people. We put him on (Coleman) Hawkins because of how effective he is in doing a lot of things. He guarded, he scores, he takes the air out of the ball and he makes huge plays when we need it.”
Hawkins is 6-foot-10, 225 pounds and averages 10 points per game.
Pickett is six inches shorter, but Hawkins had only six points, which made Shrewsberry and Penn State happy.
Pickett’s ability to score and defend is something that, at a much higher level, the late Kobe Bryant had. Like many others, Pickett looked up to the Laker great growing up. One of his answers in a postgame interview with the Big Ten Network brought Bryant’s legendary “Mamba Mentality” approach to mind.
“Kobe’s one of my favorite players,” Pickett said. “Getting in and trying that stuff, and then just working every day on my craft. Just have to keep working at it and see how that goes.”
As Shrewsberry continues to build Penn State’s program in Year 2, it will be Pickett’s last chance to be on an NCAA Tournament team. After this season, he will be out of eligibility. Pickett feels that this Penn State team can “compete with anybody in the country.”
“We believe in each other, and we believe in the work that coach Shrews puts in,” Pickett said. “We just have to follow his game plan, follow his lead.”