Penn State Defeats Drexel 73-68, Moves to 11-1
Penn State Basketball is 11-1 after a 73-68 win over Drexel in Allentown, giving them the best record in the Big Ten. Can I just write that and not discuss the last ten minutes? [Ed. Note: No, you can’t.] Fine. Let’s get to it.
Penn State came into Allentown on a high note. Having previously destroyed George Washington, the best non-conference opponent on their schedule, the Lions were looking to put the hurt on a shorthanded Drexel team. Bruiser Flint’s Dragons were just 2-7 entering the game. Flint’s teams have finished below .500 just twice since he took the reigns in 2001, but have struggled with the losses of starting point guard Major Canady and forward Kazembe Abif to injury. Junior Damion Lee was just about the only player putting up numbers for the Dragons before today’s game. Their wins coming over two bad teams in Cornell and Southern Miss. Oh, and they lost to the pride of Division 2’s Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, University of the Sciences, earlier this month. So the Lions had reason to be confident. Until they didn’t.
@NamelessRanger wouldn’t be a PSU game if it didn’t unnecessarily end up being a 1 possession game lets be real
— Jake Somerville (@Jake_Som) December 20, 2014
The game started on a slight cold spell for the Lions (stop me if you’ve heard that one before) before threes from Brandon Taylor and DJ Newbill opened the scoring up. Penn State would never relinquish that lead. The scoring was a bit back-and-forth, with freshman Sammy Mojica leading the way for Drexel and Penn State tossing up a barrage of threes courtesy of Brandon Taylor, who finished the night 4-9 from outside. There were the usual miscues (too many fouls, too many turnovers) but generally Penn State looked good in the first half, closing out with a three from Taylor to put the Nittany Lions up 36-28. It wasn’t a blowout, but it was a comfortable lead they looked unlikely to give up. It was up-and-down, sure, but Penn State was clearly the better team.
The second half started without much fanfare as well, with both teams combining only nine points in the opening 5:45. After that, Penn State did something beautiful: they went on an absolute tear. Between 14:00 and 7:23 to play, Penn State bombarded Drexel en route to a 18-3 run that gave the Nittany Lions a 58-38 lead. In that five-and-a-half minutes, we saw just how good this team can be. Newbill, Donovon Jack, Payton Banks, John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson all contributed to the run, including this beautiful sequence reminscent of the Showtime Lakers:
(Courtesy Ryan Jones @thefarmerjones)
Everything pointed to a blowout win for a rolling Blue and White squad. Everyone was contributing, they were moving the ball, and Pat Chambers’ head only looked like it was going to explode once (when John Johnson and Sammy Mojica both received technical fouls for shoving one another).
Then, the wheels came off.
Drexel hit three consecutive threes as part of a 12-0 run that gave everyone involved horrible, horrible flashbacks to the Return to Rec meltdown last season against Princeton. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong. Geno Thorpe, who had what was easily his worst game of the season, couldn’t hold on to the ball. Neither could Johnson, and the three ball that had propped up Penn State throughout was nowhere to be found. You’d have been forgiven for getting ready to set fire to another Fullington Bus. This team isn’t last year’s team though, as they held on at the end in a back-and-forth last four minutes. Buoyed by solid free throw shooting, Donovon Jack’s rebounding and blocks (he would foul out thanks to several very questionable calls), and a lack of time on the clock, Penn State closed out the game and went home winners by a final score of 73-68.
It was a roller coaster ride, but would it really be Penn State basketball if it wasn’t? There was the good (Brandon Taylor is a legit perimeter threat, DJ Newbill casually scored 20 points for the seventh time this season, Jordan Dickerson likes to scream “ballballballballball” and wave his hands on inbounds passes), the bad (Geno Thorpe’s night, the team forgetting how to guard the perimeter again, ESPN3’s stream, broadcast team, and commercials) and the ugly (twelve turnovers, Johnson’s stupid technical foul), but it’s a win nonetheless. Discouraging compared to a 20-point blowout, sure, but Penn State is 11-1.
It certainly won’t improve our KenPom rating, but Penn State has the best winning percentage in the Big Ten. It showed it can blow teams out, stop the bleeding when necessary, hit free throws down the stretch, and grind out results. Those will be key with the upcoming Big Ten schedule, and a New Year’s Eve matchup against Wisconsin in Madison, looming. If Penn State can play like it did during its big run, this will be a fun in-conference season to watch. When was the last time you could say that? Go stare at this for a while:
Penn State will play Dartmouth on Monday at 4 p.m. in the BJC.