For the first time since Penn State's thrilling run in the NIT Tournament last March, the squad was able to put together a full 40 minute team effort, which in-coincidentally resulted in their first Big Ten win of the season.
After relying on the prowess of Talor Battle all season, the rest of Ed DeChellis' squad decided to show up and bail the junior out on a night he was struggling from the floor (2-8, 1-6 from three). All five Lion starters scored in double figures, and it was the first time since Penn State had two players score at least 20 points since January 24th of last year.
Leading the charge were F David Jackson and G Chris Babb, who both had career games after heavily under-performing for the majority of the season. Jackson, who has struggled to find his rhythm on the floor this season, played with confidence as he recorded his seventh straight double-digit scoring game. Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones added 12 and 10 points respectively, on a night the Lions hit 56% from the floor and 41% from behind the arc.
However, as the Lions are traveling to Ann Arbor tomorrow (a place they've only won once in their previous 15 tries), they can't get caught up celebrating their first Big Ten victory. When Michigan made the trip to State College in early January, the Lions blew a 17 point lead, eventually losing by 9 in front of a paltry crowd of just over 5,000.
But, if they can build off Wednesday's performance, the Lions should be in good shape to contend for their second straight victory. With the exception of Babb (the only player in double figures), the Lions shot horribly from the floor against Michigan on January 7th. The Wolverines (13-12, 6-7), utilize a mix of a 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone which the Lions have traditionally struggled with, however against Northwestern on Wednesday, PSU had their way with the 1-3-1. Jones and Andrew Ott were consistently able to get inside the center of the zone, and Battle and freshman Tim Frazier had no trouble beating the Wildcats on the baseline or with the backdoor cut. While Michigan is holding their opponents to only 57 points over the past 10 games, the Lions will come into the Crisler Arena with the same game plan they had against Northwestern - get the ball to the middle forcing two guys to cover the ball, and kick out for an open look.
While Michigan's offense, led by DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris, is certainly more dynamic than the Wildcats, Penn State was able to keep them to 16 points during the first half of their last contest. If Penn State's 2-3 zone can successfully extend to keep Michigan from getting open looks from three, the inside three should certainly be able to hold their own on the defensive glass.
It's not very often you see Battle have two sub par games in a row, so you can look for him to come out hungry off the opening tip. If his supporting cast can come out with the same enthusiasm and confidence they had earlier in the week, the Lions should be able to stay close until the final whistle. Hopefully it'll be a flight home the TEAM can be proud of, not just Battle.