Purdue is 22-1 for a reason, and two of those wins are by double-digits over Penn State. Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s 80-60 loss in West Lafayette.
LIFE WITH MIKEY PART II
There’s never a ton of good that comes from a 20-point loss. But a positive that Penn State can take from the Purdue setback is that Mikey Henn continued to play well. The seventh-year senior on his fifth college team didn’t score a point during any of Penn State’s first nine Big Ten games. Then, this past Sunday, he became one of the heroes of Penn State’s 83-61 whopping of Michigan at the Bryce Jordan Center. Henn started in place of true freshman Kebba Njie. He then rewarded coach Micah Shrewsberry’s faith with 10 points, matching his season-high.
Henn got another start against Purdue. Again, he delivered, scoring 11 points– all in the first half– and going 3-for-6 from 3. Henn didn’t score in the second half. But he was one of three Penn State players to crack double figures and added five assists. There’s no reason to think Shrewsberry will yank Henn from the starting lineup come Sunday at Nebraska.
2ND HALF BLUES
Barely anybody expected Penn State to beat Purdue. But more people felt Penn State would stay in the game for a half, and it did. Penn State went into halftime down six. But this team has been known to struggle in the second half. Coming into Wednesday, opponents had outscored Penn State in the second half in 10 of its first 21 games The first time the teams met this season, Purdue outscored Penn State 45-26 in the second half in a 76-63 Boiler win at Philadelphia’s Palestra. The last 20 minutes– to paraphrase the great Frank Sinatra– weren’t much lovelier for Penn State the second time around against Purdue. Purdue won the second half, 45-31.
PURDUE NOT OVERPOWERED BY FUNK
That title was a tribute to The Clash for those who may not get it. Anyway, Andrew Funk’s Big Ten season individually has mirrored Penn State’s collective conference run so far; fantastic at times, scuffling at other times. Funk has been tremendous against Big Ten opponents at the Bryce Jordan Center. In his last four games in that arena, Funk scored 20, 23, 23 and 19 points, respectively. In his last four road games, he’s scored nine, 16, 12 and, against Purdue, two points. In Funk’s previous four games at the Jordan Center, he’s 21-for-39 from 3-point land (53.8 percent). In his last four road games, he’s 6-29—quite a disparity. The 3-point ball is Funk’s bread and butter, and nobody and the Big Ten has made more 3-pointers than Funk (67). Penn State is 1-4 on the road in Big Ten play and 4-1 at the Bryce Jordan Center, with a loss at the Palestra in what was also a home game. Penn State’s success isn’t dependent on Funk, but his struggling on the road and Penn State also struggling probably isn’t entirely coincidental. Funk’s numbers in the season series against Purdue aren’t good: 5 points, 2-for-17 from the field, 1-11 from 3.
One more thing. In Penn State’s lone Big Ten road win thus far, a 74-59 triumph over then-No. 17 Illinois Dec. 10, Funk had 20 points– sharing the game-high with teammate Jalen Pickett,– shooting 7-for-11 from the field and 6-for-9 from 3. That’s the Andrew Funk Penn State will need more often in its NCAA Tournament push.
PURDUE IS MUCH BETTER
“Best team in the country. Best player in the country (Zach Edey). Best coach in the country (Matt Painter).”
That was the entirety of Shrewsberry’s opening statement in his postgame press conference.
Penn State basketball has made great strides under Shrewsberry. In less than two seasons on the job, Shrewsberry has guided Penn State from a losing program to NCAA Tournament contention. But both meetings with Purdue showed how far Penn State is from being the Big Ten’s best. To be fair, Purdue is the best team in college basketball right now, so that’s an Edey-sized measuring stick. But Penn State also lost by 20 at Rutgers last Tuesday.
Two 20-point losses in eight days indicate that a program still has a long way to go. Penn State is a good team that’s made great strides, but it’s still far from being one of the Big Ten’s elite.
STILL ON THE BUBBLE
Losing to the No. 1 team in the country on the first night of February is hardly fatal to a program’s NCAA Tournament chances. At the same time, it shocking Purdue would have put Penn State in the driver’s seat for its first trip to the “Big Dance” since 2011. Nonetheless, Penn State still controls its destiny. But a loss at Nebraska Sunday would make things much more difficult, and Penn State’s only Big Ten road win came more than a month and a half ago.
“We have to play better on the road,” Shrewsberry said in his postgame presser. “That’s the one thing that we need to do. We haven’t shown our best. Maybe it takes one shot going in early in the game to give us some confidence to push us through.”
Shrewsberry pointed out how well Penn State has played at home and made it clear that he’s confident in his squad.
“I like our chances, man,” Shrewsberry said. “I think we have a good team, and I’m going to continue to coach them that way, and I believe in our guys the exact same way.”
Penn State has only been to the NCAA Tournament twice this millennium and hasn’t won a game there since 2001. Shrewsberry doesn’t care. What matters is 2023.
“We have a lot of games left,” he said, “and we’re going to do whatever the hell it takes to get there.”