Game Grades: Penn State vs. Wisconsin
Coming off a big win against Northwestern, Penn State looked to knock off conference foe Wisconsin as they traveled into town. In a low scoring game, it was Wisconsin that pulled away early and held a big 17 point lead. It was too much for Penn State to answer, as their comeback was thwarted late due to foul trouble and poor shooting early on. In the end, Wisconsin walked away with a 66-60 victory, sending Penn State on the road for a stretch of three games. Here are the game grades for the Nittany Lions’ performance.
The backcourt was less than spectacular for the first 34 minutes of the game, but they were the sole reason the offense thrived under pressure late. Three of the four Nittany Lions that scored in double digits on the night were from the backcourt, fueled by Payton Banks and Devin Foster, who went a combined 5-7 from three-point land while the rest of team went 1-8. Shep Garner had a lackluster game after going 2-7 and earning six of his ten points from the line before leaving the game early due to fouls. Defensively, they limited the Wisconsin backcourt to just 12 points and did fairly well at protecting the perimeter for most of the game. The guards drove the Lions to a near successful comeback, but in the end, the early struggles and fouls drop down their grade.
It took Brandon Taylor 27 minutes of play to get his first points on the board. With the team’s leading scorer struggling early on, this really kept Penn State in a drought from inside for most of the game. Getting only nine minutes on the floor from Jordan Dickerson, the Nittany Lions could not contain redshirt-freshman Ethan Happ from scoring 20 points on the night, as he led the Badgers to a commanding 24-12 advantage in points inside the paint. Wisconsin star Nigel Hayes was contained for most of the game, but most of that was poor shot selection and he still contributed with five assists. The defense could have been much better, and if it were not for Taylor’s late surge, the frontcourt would have been rather irrelevant on the night.
Penn State’s biggest disadvantage all season has been the lack of depth on the roster, and it showed on Thursday. The team went nine deep against Wisconsin, but really only eight had more than two minutes on the floor. The team garnered 19 total fouls and was unable to really switch out to give a break to any players in trouble since there were not many options to go to. As far as the play goes, Foster, Donovon Jack and Davis Zemgulis combined for 17 points on the night, 13 of which came in the second half. Had Zemgulis’ layup gone in with 16 seconds left in the game, Penn State would have only trailed two and the team would have had a real chance if Wisconsin missed a free throw after being sent immediately to the line. While the players performed decently, the lack of depth available hurt Penn State’s ability to compete late in crunch time.
If this was an evaluation for the first half, the grade may have been an F. Three different times in the first half, the team went more than five minutes without hitting a shot from the floor, including one that carried into the second half and almost went seven total minutes. After a Badger’s buzzer-beating three, Penn State entered the halfway point down nine, scoring just 18 total points. Early in the second half, things were just as bad, stuck in a deficit as big as 17 points. The Lions made adjustments and continued to claw back, instituting a full court press and a three-guard attack that was given the go to pull the trigger from deep. While keeping Wisconsin’s offense in a rut, Chambers did what was needed to lead his squad back into a one possession game in the final 30 seconds, which is all you can really ask for. Despite this, the coach allowed several players to get into foul trouble late, with two of his best shooters in Banks and Garner fouling out and three others who were at four a piece. What Chambers helped his team do was quite remarkable, but the adjustments were made way too late and the miscues were too much to overcome.
Ryan Berti is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @RBirdman7.