Penn State vs. Duquesne Preview

Story posted December 28, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by Bradford Conners

Coming off of their best performance of the season in a blowout win over New Hampshire on Sunday, the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-4) will look to wrap up non-conference play by sweeping their four game home stand when they host the Duquesne Dukes (7-6) on Saturday.

Penn State’s offense has finally come to life during the current home stand; after failing to reach the 70 point plateau in each of its first eight games, the Nittany Lions have scored at least 70 points in three straight games. Penn State also shined defensively in its 72-45 triumph over New Hampshire, holding the Wildcats to 23% shooting and allowing just 14 first half points. However, the Nittany Lions will be facing a tougher task this time around as Duquesne pays a visit to the Bryce Jordan Center.

Despite being picked to finish dead last out of 16 teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference preseason poll, Duquesne is quietly putting together a better-than-expected season under first year head coach Jim Ferry. Even after losing 4 of their 5 leading scorers from a year ago (two to graduation and two to transfers), the Dukes have compiled an above-.500 record that includes quality wins over Western Michigan and West Virginia. Duquesne has also played a challenging schedule, with its six losses coming to teams with a combined record of 54-21.

On paper, Penn State and Duquesne look to be  evenly-matched. Both teams have a winning record despite posting a slightly negative point differential on the season, and the Nittany Lions and Dukes have each suffered just one loss at home this year but have also only notched one win away from home. Penn State is ranked No. 132 in the RPI, and Duquesne sits at No. 134.

The reason that Duquesne has stayed competitive despite losing so much scoring production from last year’s 16-15 team has been the emergence of freshman guard Derrick Colter. Averaging 13.2 PPG, Colter is Duquesne’s leading scorer, and he has been on fire of late, netting 25 points in each of the Dukes’ last two games. Colter has scored in double figures in five straight games and has been recognized with two consecutive A-10 Rookie of the Week awards.

Joining Colter in the backcourt is senior guard Sean Johnson, who is second on the team with 12.9 PPG. However, Johnson was actually more productive a year ago when he averaged 13.5 PPG despite receiving slightly less playing time, and his shooting percentage has decreased from 43% to 37%.

Though Duquesne’s guards have been solid during non-conference play, Penn State’s backcourt duo of DJ Newbill and Jermaine Marshall has been slightly better. Newbill and Marshall are averaging 15.1 PPG a piece on the season, which ties them for seventh in the Big Ten in scoring. Marshall is coming off one of the most efficient games of his career, contributing 15 points and 5 steals in just 24 minutes of action.

With neither team holding a substantial advantage in the backcourt, a strong game from a frontcourt player on either side could very well be the difference maker in what should be a tightly-contested battle. After failing to reach double figures in his first nine games of the season, Penn State forward Sasa Borovnjak scored 14 points in the win over Delaware State and 11 against New Hampshire, shooting 7 for 11 from the field in that two game span.

Over on the Duquesne side, freshman Quevyn Winters has been his team’s top-scoring forward, netting 8.2 PPG. However, after scoring at least 13 points in 4 of his first 7 collegiate games, he has not reached double figures since.

Though Duquesne’s frontcourt hasn’t had much of an impact offensively of late, the Dukes do lead the A-10 in team rebounding with 40 boards per game. Their success on the glass has been a balanced team effort, with six players averaging at least 3.7 RPG.

Even if the Nittany Lions struggle to win the battle on the boards, they should be able to make up for it by winning the turnover margin. The Dukes give the ball up over 16 times per game, and they force just 12 turnovers per game, both of which rank second-to-last in the A-10.

The difference between these two very equally-talented teams could end up being Penn State’s home court advantage. The Bryce Jordan Center has been friendly to the Nittany Lions this year, who have compiled a 6-1 home record, but Duquesne is just 1-4 away from home.

The teams have split their two meetings over the last two years with the home team winning both times. Duquesne won 66-59 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh a year ago, but 6 of the 10 starters in that game are either injured or are no longer with their respective teams.

If Penn State defeats Duquesne, the Nittany Lions will finish the non-conference season at 8-4, a half-game better than both their 8-5 non-conference record last year and their 7-4 mark two years ago when they went on to make the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday’s game will tip-off at 4:00 p.m. The game will air live on ComRadio.

Bradford Conners is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, e-mail btc5082@psu.edu.