Penn State basketball is starting to roll. The team has won three straight for the first time in Big Ten play this season. Here are five takeaways from Thursday night’s 71-67 win over Ohio State.
PICKETT. PICKETT GOOD.
Death. Taxes. Jalen Pickett putting Penn State basketball on his back. No, he didn’t have the gaudy stat line he did in last week’s wins over Illinois (41 points, eight assists) or Minnesota (33 points, eight assists). But it’s hard to argue that Penn State would have beat Ohio State without Pickett. In the first half, Pickett had two fouls and two points. In the second half, he took over the game. He scored 21 points in the last 20 minutes, including Penn State’s last 14. Pickett willed his team to another win. Penn State has been perfect in its past three games. Pickett has been the man in all of them. That’s a star, and No. 22 has a legitimate case for first-team All-America honors.
With a player as good as Pickett, it’s easy to forget about the rest of Penn State basketball. Although that’s understandable, it’s also unfair to other players.
Especially Seth Lundy.
Coach Micah Shrewsberry referred to Pickett as Penn State’s “Batman” days before the Ohio State game. In that case, Lundy is the team’s “Robin.” Lundy, who has been in Penn State’s rotation for almost four complete seasons and has played for three head coaches, is one of the Big Ten’s more underrated players. He averages 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game– both career highs– all the while being one of the Big Ten’s best defenders. As usual, Lundy was on his game in Columbus, scoring 19 points and going 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. Fourteen of Lundy’s points came in the first half.
Lundy was Penn State’s man in the first 20 minutes, and Pickett was Penn State’s man in the last 20. The team needed both to get a win it had to have.
Statistically, it hasn’t been a great season for Cam Wynter. Wynter was a baller at Drexel, scoring 1,659 points in four seasons. He came into the Ohio State game averaging just 7.7 points in what will be his lone season at Penn State. But Wynter played well against Minnesota, scoring 14 points, and kept it going at Ohio State with 18, 11 coming in the first 20 minutes.
With Pickett not playing for 10 minutes of the first half, Penn State needed its ensemble to step up. Lundy and Wynter provided that, and that played a big part in beating Ohio State.
LET’S TALK QUAD 1
Ohio State has been awful this season. In fact, only one team in the Big Ten–Minnesota– has been worse, and guess who the Gophers’ lone conference win came against?
Ohio State came into the Penn State game 11-16 overall and 3-13 in the Big Ten. Yet, by beating Ohio State, Penn State got a “quadrant one win.”
How’s that so? Well, any win on the road against a team with a top 75 NET ranking qualifies as a quad-one win, and because Penn State beat No. 71 Ohio State in its dojo, that win qualifies.
Does that sound dumb? Well, it kinda is. But Penn State’s last three games are against teams that are better than Ohio State.
The last week of Penn State’s regular season starts Sunday at 6:30 against Rutgers— ranked No. 37 in the NET— at the Bryce Jordan Center. PSU then plays at Northwestern (No. 39) on the first night of March and ends its regular season at home against Maryland (No. 23) Sunday, March 5. If Penn State can win at least two of those, its NCAA Tournament hopes will be alive come the Big Ten Tournament.
THE GOOD VIBES CAN GO AWAY
Things are going well for Penn State right now, but being on the bubble is not for the faint of heart. All the good vibes Penn State has built over the past 10 days could be gone with a loss to Rutgers at home Sunday.
Rutgers is struggling, having lost four of five. Rutgers also has the same overall record as Penn State (17-11), a better Big Ten mark (9-8) and beat Penn State by 20 in the season’s first meeting. So Penn State could well lose Sunday. A loss this late in the season and this close to the edge of the NCAA Tournament would destroy much of those good vibes, especially with a game at No. 21 Northwestern up next.