Jalen Pickett’s toughness has never been questioned. He is one of the best rebounders at his position in the country. He always drives to the basket and consistently draws contact — whether its called is another matter — and he has carried this team for the past two seasons as the most consistent player on the team despite rarely coming off the floor.
So when Penn State needed a victory to keep its faint NCAA tournament hopes alive, Pickett played the game of his career with him scoring 41 points on 15 for 20 shooting and recording eight assists in Tuesday night’s game against Illinois, his teammate Cameron Wynter made it be known as he was at the foul line as he was crossing the 40 point mark towards the end of Tuesday night’s 93-81 win over Illinois as Pickett revealed in his post-game press conference to reporters.
“Something along the lines of ‘you’re tough’,” Pickett said. “He said some other words but something along the lines of ‘you’re tough’. These guys were cheering me along the whole game telling me to keep going keep attacking. We were just trying to get out of this four-game skid and get a win.”
Pickett not only set a new Bryce Jordan Center record of 41 points he surpassed the 2,000-point milestone in a game that his team desperately needed. He knew that Illinois was a quality team that Penn State needed to beat, however, Pickett was ready to turn the page with the home stretch of the season and try to win every game on the schedule.
“It was really important to us,” Pickett said. “Illinois is a good team they have a positive record in the conference so going in we think we can beat anybody. So, I think our mindset going in is to go 1-0 and let the pieces fall where they may at the end.”
Pickett knew his performance was needed, not only for himself but for his teammates, and he felt after recent practices and at shoot-around before the game, the team would be rewarded with the result because the team had success earlier in the season and he knows Penn State can be successful again.
“Very important. Losing four games in a row is tough trying to come out of that,” Pickett said. “People come to practice losing a couple of games in a row knowing you have a really good team, and we had success early, and putting game back-to-back with losses was tough, but had a really good couple days of practice and our energy was really good in shootaround. I’ve seen smiles for the first time in a while and I’m not surprised by the result.”
Penn State is not known for going to the line, but on Tuesday it attempted 19 free throws, and it did so by playing more aggressively and driving to the basket and drawing fouls as Illinois got into the bonus. Pickett said the team was working on how it could draw more fouls and attack the basket more so they can get a better whistle from the officials and apply pressure to the opponents.
“It’s been very poor. We’ve been talking about how we could draw more fouls,” Pickett said. “What can we do because we shoot a lot of threes, we don’t go to the basket a lot, or whatever so coach (Shrewsberry) said when jump in the air we got to go into them and try to get into the bonus early because people are putting us in the bonus. We have to be more aggressive and put pressure on teams.”
Penn State will try to sustain the same formula on the road at Minnesota Saturday night.