Nittany Lions Look to Continue Strong Start

Story posted December 5, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Bradford Conners

Fresh off a win over Virginia Tech in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-1) will be looking for their first six-game winning streak of the Pat Chambers era when they pay a visit to the Cam Henderson Center to take on the Marshall Thundering Herd (3-4) on Saturday.

After starting the year with three straight wins, Marshall has dropped four games in a row---including the last three at home---to fall below .500. On Monday, the Herd shot just 29-percent from the floor in a 77-59 loss to South Carolina.

Saturday’s match-up will complete a home-and-home between Penn State and Marshall, as the Nittany Lions bested the Thundering Herd 90-77 at the Bryce Jordan Center last year. However, Penn State will be facing a new-look Marshall squad; only one player who started last year’s meeting remains on the Herd’s roster, and Dan D’Antoni---older brother of former NBA coach Mike D’Antoni---is in his first year as Marshall’s head coach.

The two squads will showcase contrasting styles of offense, with Penn State relying on its backcourt of Big Ten leading scorer D.J. Newbill (24.1 points per game) and Shep Garner (11.1 points per game) to carry the scoring load, whereas Marshall’s top two scorers are forwards. Ryan Taylor leads his team with 16.0 PPG (tied for sixth in the C-USA) and Shawn Smith is averaging 12.0 points per game.

Penn State’s isolation-heavy offense ranks dead last in the Big Ten with 9.5 assists per game, while Marshall is atop the C-USA with 15.4 assists per contest. That being said, superior passing hasn’t led to a superior offensive output for the Thundering Herd. Penn State averages 74.1 PPG, and Marshall hasn’t exceeded 74 points in a game against a Division I opponent this year.

The Herd relies very heavily on the three-point shot, having attempted 24 trifectas per game. However, the threes haven’t been falling of late, as Marshall has connected on just 26-percent of its tries from long range during its current four-game losing streak. Austin Loop, its leading three-point shooter, is just 6-for-26 from beyond the arc during that stretch (23-percent) after starting the season 10-for-16 (63-percent).

The Nittany Lions also struggled from three in their win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday, sinking just four of 24 attempts. However, as he’s been doing all season long, Newbill took over late in the game with 13 second-half points to lead the Nittany Lions to victory.

In fact, over his last six games, Newbill is averaging 14.7 points in the second half alone, having reached double digits each time. All six of those games were either decided by eight points or less or went to overtime; meanwhile, Marshall hasn’t played in a game all season where the final margin was within eight points. Therefore, expect Penn State to have the advantage if the game comes down to the wire.

Pat Chambers will also have some flexibility with his lineup in this game, as Marshall does not have a player taller than 6-foot-9. Jordan Dickerson got his first start of the season over Donovon Jack in the Virginia Tech game, but both have struggled to get going on the offensive end, as the duo has combined for just 5.6 points per game.

Therefore, if Chambers elects for a more offensively-oriented lineup, he could opt to go small for stretches of the game by playing Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis in the frontcourt along with three guards. Penn State has used such a lineup throughout the season---primarily in the second half---but should have the ability to do so frequently against Marshall without sacrificing too much of a height advantage.

Penn State will be challenged on the glass by a Marshall team that is second in the C-USA with a plus-4.0 rebounding margin. Ryan Taylor is third in the conference with 9.3 rebounds per game, and Cheikh Saine is seventh with 7.3 boards per contest. Travis paces the Nittany Lions with 7.8 rebounds per game (fourth in the Big Ten), and as a team, the Penn State has posted a rebounding margin of plus-2.8.

Saturday’s tipoff in Huntington, West Virginia is set for 6:00 p.m.

Bradford Conners is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email btc5082@psu.edu.