Penn State basketball (4-0) has its first big game of the Mike Rhoades era.
On Thanksgiving Day, Penn State takes on No. 12 Texas A&M (4-0).
This is the first game of the ESPN Events Invitational in Florida, a tournament which features six of last season’s NCAA Tournament teams, including Penn State.
Penn State beat Texas A&M in March. Before we find out if it can do it again in November, here are five things to know.
PENN STATE BASKETBALL’S 1ST TEST
PSU is 4-0, and that’s a good thing for coach Mike Rhoades and his program. But to be blunt, the team’s supposed to be 4-0. Big Ten team’s won’t impress many by beating Delaware State, Lehigh, St. Francis and Morehead State. Texas A&M will be a different story.
Texas A&M might well be one of the best team’s Penn State plays all season, and with the Big Ten being as consistently strong as it is, that’s saying a lot. Thanksgiving day will be the first time Penn State and its fans see what this team has and how close— or far— it is from being formidable.
PENN STATE-TEXAS A&M REMATCH
The stakes for this game aren’t as high as they were the last time these teams met. It was one of the greatest night’s in PSU basketball history, and it came at Texas A&M’s expense. In the first-round of the NCAA Tournament, Penn State got its first March Madness win in more than two decades, pounding A&M, 76-59. Penn State’s Andrew Funk became a folk hero for one night, scoring 27 points and going 8-for-10 from 3-point land.
That was the last time Penn State beat a Power Five team— albeit, it’s only play against one once since then— and also the last game Micah Shrewsberry won as Penn State’s coach. Now, it’s the Mike Rhoades show, and we’ll see what that era brings.
Thanksgiving Day is Rhoades’ first shot at a big-time win.
ASSESSING THE AGGIES
Texas A&M is 4-0 with a schedule that, two this point, is stronger than Penn State’s. A&M beat one of Penn State’s Big Ten foes, Ohio State, 73-66 Nov. 10 and followed that up with a 13-point win over SMU four days later. Texas A&M has received strong guard play from Wade Taylor IV (17 PPG) and Tyrece Radford (15.5 PPG). Taylor averaged 16.3 points per game for A&M last season, but Penn State held him to just 10. Against PSU, Taylor went 2-for-15 from the field and 1-for-10 from 3. But it’s a new season, and Penn State’s team is almost entirely new from the team that beat A&M last year.
Donovan “Puff” Johnson made his season debut last Tuesday night against St. Francis. The North Carolina transfer missed the team’s first two games due to illness and now is working back into the swing of things. He played 16 minutes each against St. Francis and Morehead State, scoring a total of 10 points. Rhoades said in his weekly availability Monday that he’s expecting Johnson’s minutes to increase. We’ll see how much he plays against Texas A&M, but in any case, this is a guy who played three seasons at North Carolina before transferring to PSU and a guy that’s played in plenty of Big games (including the 2022 national title game against Kansas, in which he played so hard he famously threw up on the court).
Johnson is slated to be one of Penn State’s most important players, and a breakout game for him could lead to an upset over A&M.
HOW TO WATCH
Penn State comes in as a 2.5-point underdog. Here’s how to watch and listen to the game.
Tip-off time: Noon
Venue: State Farm Field House, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex
TV channel: ESPN
TV announcers: Dave O’Brien (PXP), Cory Alexander (color)
Radio: Penn State Sports Network