First off: Penn State’s 69-66 win makes them the first Big Ten team to win three straight games in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, so congratulations to the squad for making a bit of history.
Let me just say that this is the first time I have taken a breath in about a half hour. If there is one thing Penn State basketball gives you, it’s a strong cardiac workout.
In fairness to the Lions, however, they played the best defense of the young season and started the second half with a 28-11 run, building an 11-point lead with seven minutes remaining.
The shooting was finally on the mark in comparison to the terrible showings on the road at the...Charleston Classic? I don't even remember; I’ve blocked that from my mind. Either way, it looks as though the Lions have gotten over their shooting woes on the road, or at the very least have started to gain the confidence that they need to succeed this season.
Before I go any farther, let me say once again that Talor Battle is having a special season so far. Already he has scored 25 or more points three times this season, including tonight’s 32-point performance, a career high at that.
So what can we take from this victory? For whatever reason, I always have three keys to the game, so let’s have three things to take from the game.
The offense and defense can function away from the BJC
I guess that pretty much is a wordy way of saying that the team is learning how to win on the road. That may seem rather simple to say, but considering that the past five to 10 years of Penn State basketball aren’t exactly littered with epic road wins, you’ve got to start small and work your way up.
Regardless of how Virginia finishes out their season, Penn State will be able to say they went on the road and won against an ACC team with a good crowd on national TV. Even if it doesn’t boost the SOS in the long run, it can help the confidence level when you’re playing tough ones against the likes of Michigan State and Ohio State later on down the road.
The shots are starting to fall
While the percentages aren’t where they can be, they stayed well out of the 20-30 percent range that they had been previously on the road this season.
Maybe the most important shots falling came from Battle, who although he has had several 25-plus-point games this season is getting them mainly from shooting a lot of shots. Tonight, however, Talor was his old self, shooting 9-of-15 from the field and pushing his PPG to 20.1.
Chris Babb has yet to find his shooting touch again, and while that is a cause of some concern for Lions fans, all great shooters come back around, even in the deepest of slumps. In short, don't give up on Babb; he’ll find his shot and start raining the threes again.
If there is one positive out of him missing, it is that he isn’t afraid to shoot. The belief that the slump is just a shot away from being broken can be a big help in actually getting out of the slump.
Early on this year a lot of talk came from Jeff Brooks’ size and how he wasn’t getting enough rebounds for how big of a body he had. Tonight Jeff posted a nine-rebound game and added eight points to the mix. Andrew Jones and David Jackson both added seven rebounds. Jones finally caught up to Battle, and they are now both tied for first on the team in total rebounds with 42 this season.
The defensive effort coming out of the second half against Virginia was by far the best effort that the Lions have shown this year. It is starting to look like these guys are figuring out the type of effort that it takes for a team to win a big game.
All in all, this game was exactly what this team needed—a win on the road against a solid team and proof to themselves more than anything that they can win games. Closing out games will be the next issue addressed on the list, but minus a few mistakes, there is only so much you can do against a player who is hitting threes from everywhere trying to pull a Tracy McGrady .
I’m sure those things will be addressed in practice as they are needed. For now, however, we can enjoy the win and look forward to the trip to Temple this Saturday.