CHICAGO — For the third day in a row, Penn State made the plays it needed to hang on at the end.
The team held off Indiana and reached its first Big Ten final since 2011, which also marked its last trip to the NCAA tournament.
Penn State now faces Purdue for a chance at its first Big Ten tournament championship. Before getting to that game, here’s a look at how Penn State got past the Hoosiers.
CUTTING OFF THE HELP
Penn State knew it couldn’t stop Trayce Jackson-Davis from making his impact. What it could do was battle inside and limit the rest of the Indiana’s effectiveness.
Penn State’s 3-point defense did a masterful job, but getting Race Thompson in foul trouble proved just as crucial. When Indiana started the game strong, it did so behind Thompson serving as Jackson-Davis’ wingman with solid interior play.
But at the start of the second half, Penn State got Thompson to pick up his second and third fouls, relegating him to the bench. When Thompson returned, he was far less effective. After sinking four first-half shots, he didn’t make a basket in the game’s final 20 minutes.
7’S THE MAGIC NUMBER
For the first three games at the United Center, the final seven minutes of the game have been Jalen Pickett’s time to take over. Unlike wins over Illinois and Northwestern, Penn State carried the lead against Indiana with seven minutes left, but Pickett still made his charge on schedule.
From the 7:03 mark until the 2:05 mark, the All-American put Penn State on his back. Pickett scored 12 of his 28 points in that five-minute stretch, interrupted only by 3-pointers from Andrew Funk and Camren Wynter. Over the course of five minutes, Penn State built its lead from 54-49 to 72-57, a margin that proved critical during Indiana’s late flurry.
CLEANING UP THE ERRORS
The last two minutes didn’t show it. Penn State struggled to close out the game against Indiana’s pressure defense. But for 38 minutes, Penn State proved almost flawless with the basketball.
Less than 24 hours after a season-high 15 turnovers against Northwestern, Penn State consistently made the right decisions against Indiana. Penn State committed just four turnovers in the game’s first 38 minutes, limiting Indiana’s ability to run.
Penn State’s turnover issues resurfaced late. It gave the ball away four times in the last two minutes. But for most of Saturday, Penn State was in control, creating the separation it needed.
FINDING THE RIGHT MATCHUP
When Penn State can to take its time with the ball, it’s usually able to find a favorable matchup. And that’s a point of pride for coach Micah Shrewsberry.
“It’s how we play,” he said. “We play off a lot of movement. We play off a lot of screens, and then we get to a certain point in the game where we just hunt matchups. I believe in our guys and what they’re able to do.
“So Pickett can get the matchup he wants, go to the post. Cam (Wynter) can get the matchup and ISO it. Seth (Lundy) can do the same thing, Kanye (Clary). If those guys are beating somebody off the dribble, you’ve either got to help or (we) get the layup. Now once you help, we’re kicking that ball out. Now you’re chasing us around, and we’re spraying it around, and that’s where we get a bunch of our threes.”
FRESHMEN STAND TALL
With five senior-pluses and three seniors on the roster, it’s understandable if Penn State fans are concerned about next year’s roster. But the Big Ten tournament continues to show that this year’s freshmen give Shrewsberry a solid foundation for next season.
Against Northwestern, Kanye Clary showed he could handle the stage against the Wildcats’ pressure defense. Against Indiana, Kebba Njie’s rebounding work made a big difference.
Not only did Penn State win the offensive rebounding battle, but Indiana scored just six second-chance points. Penn State actually won the second-chance battle 12-6, a rare occurrence for a team that seldom grabs offensive boards.