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Penn State-Michigan State: 5 Things to Know as PSU Looks for 1st Big Ten Road Win of Mike Rhoades Era

COLLEGE PARK, MD - DECEMBER 06: Penn State Nittany Lions guard Kanye Clary (0) scores against Maryland Terrapins forward Julian Reese (10) during the Penn State Nittany Lions game versus the Maryland Terrapins on December 6, 2023 at Xfinity Center in College Park, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

Penn State could easily be 2-0 in the Big Ten and could just as easily be 0-2.

Instead, Penn State lost to Maryland in overtime and came back from an 18-point second-half deficit to beat Ohio State.

Now, Penn State looks to beat a hot Michigan State team on the road and get over .500 in conference play for the first time this season.

Here are five things to know.

CLOSING THE DEAL

Penn State played six games in December and came out of it an even 3-3.

Four of those games were decided by single digits and three went into overtime.

In those close games, there were some highlights, such as Penn State coming back from an 18-point second-half deficit to beat Ohio State.

But in the other three games— overtime losses at Maryland and to Georgia Tech at Madison Square Garden and an embarrassing home loss to 20.5-point favorite Bucknell— Penn State came up short.

For Rhoades, Penn State can’t win close games unless it gets tested in them, and that’s what they had in December.

“I always think, close games, you learn a lot about your team,” coach Mike Rhoades told reporters via Zoom Tuesday. “Your players learn what they’re capable of doing late in games. It’s just a learning experience, but the only way you can find ways to win close games is you play close games. You have to go through it, so our guys have done that. We’ve had one-possession games. We’ve had overtime games. We’ve had close games where we’re in foul trouble, and all those are learning experiences. We could go back and learn from them all the time, which we have. I think we improved throughout the month of December because of what we went through. 

“Now, we have to use that here going into January in league play. We have a close game on the road of home, we have to find a way to win it. So you put all those experiences you’ve gone through to use, and make sure it helps you next time around.”

‘IT’S AMAZIN’

Penn State guard Kanye Clary’s improvement over the past nine months has been significant.

Last season, Clary— as most true freshmen are in this transfer portal, extra eligibility, veteran-heavy era of college basketball— didn’t get a lot of playing time, and thus, didn’t produce much.

He averaged 3.7 points over 10.4 minutes per game, playing on a squad that made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years and won a tournament game for the first time in 22.

Now, Clary is Penn State’s best player. He averages 18 points per game, which is sixth in the Big Ten and fourth amongst guards. As one could imagine, Rhoades is a big fan of Clary.

“His approach and attitude has been awesome,” Rhoades said. “He’s a really good player, and he’s dynamic but he’s done a really good job of continuing to learn more about the style and the system.”

SOME STUFF ABOUT SPARTY

It’s been a disappointing season for coach Tom Izzo and Michigan State thus far.

MSU started the year ranked No. 4, even getting a vote for No. 1.

But a stunning season-opening loss at home to James Madison set the tone, and there have been times where, Sparty looked like it would struggle to make the NCAA Tournament, much less be a national title contender.

Michigan State is 8-5 overall and dropped its first two Big Ten games, at home to Wisconsin and at Nebraska. But over the last four games, Michigan State’s looked the way it was supposed to look, highlighted by a 24-point drubbing of then-No. 6 Baylor Dec. 16. Michigan State is led by one of the Big Ten’s best players in guard Tyson Walker.

Walker is third in the conference in scoring and first among guards, averaging 20 points per game.

“Walker can really score,” Rhoades said. “Score in bunches. Score in many different ways. He’s a really good isolation guy, so he can make 3s off the dribble as well, but also, he can into the defense because he’s so quick to get to the rim. He makes big plays for them.”

Michigan State also has A.J. Hoggard in its backcourt, who’s tied for third in the league in assists, averaging five per game.

“He is a big (6-foot-4, 210 pounds), strong point guard that runs the show,” Rhoades said. “He can score it and get to the rim, but also, he sets people up. You can tell he’s an extension of his coach. He’s been there for a while. So two very good Big Ten guards, very good backcourt. We have our hands full, but I like our backcourt as well.”

DOING THE DOUBLE

Both Ohio State and Michigan State have been consistently better than Penn State in basketball, and because of that, it’s rare for Penn State to beat both teams in the same season.

The only time in the 2010s that Penn State beat both Brutus and Sparty took place in 2019-20, a year Penn State would have been a lock for the NCAA Tournament had it not been for the pandemic taking over the world right at that time.

A first-year head coach beating both Ohio State and Michigan State within his first three conference games would be impressive, to say the least, and Rhoades has that opportunity.

Beating Michigan State on the road isn’t likely, but neither was coming back from 18 down in the second half against Ohio State.

HOW TO WATCH

Penn State comes into the game as a 13-point underdog. Here’s more information on how to watch and listen to the game.

Tip-off: 7 p.m.

TV: Peacock 

TV announcers: Noah Eagle (PXP), Robbie Hummel (color)

SiriusXM: Channel 380, 970 (app)

Radio: Penn State Sports Network

Radio announcers: Steve Jones (PXP), Dick Jerardi (color)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCF61LcWhIs

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