Facing Second Ranked Opponent in Four Nights, Hoops Hosts No. 19 Maryland Saturday
After a 3-2 stretch to combat its 0-6 start to open conference play, Penn State basketball entered Wednesday’s evening matchup at Ohio State with a marginal amount of momentum. But 13 turnovers, 32 percent shooting, and a 20-point blowout at the hands of the Buckeyes seem to have put the Nittany Lions back in its inescapable mid-season rut.
“For the first time I saw us get deflated,” head coach Pat Chambers said following the loss. “I hadn’t seen that all year.”
Things don’t get much easier for Penn State, which now must quickly rebound as it hosts No. 19 Maryland on Saturday night at the Jordan Center. The good news? Penn State has won its last three home games, and the Terrapins are 2-4 on the road in Big Ten games this season. The bad news? Penn State’s already lost a winnable game to the conference newcomers, and have consistently demonstrated a keen ability to lose close games.
Before Wednesday’s setback, at his weekly Monday press conference, the ever-optimistic Chambers maintained his position that his Nittany Lions can beat any team, any night, at any venue.
“I think we’re playing some of the best basketball in our league,” he said. “We’re right there.”
Chambers may be confident, but Penn State, at 3-9 in conference play, sits in the standings only ahead of lowly newbie Rutgers and perennial bottom-feeder Northwestern. Maryland, meanwhile, 8-4 in its first season as a Big Ten member, trails only Wisconsin in the conference standings.
But to Chambers, standings are only a list of numbers.
“I don’t look at the league like you guys do,” he said. “I just worry about us and what we’re doing.”
The Enemy (Is Everywhere)
Saturday evening will be the second time the two teams meet in the past 10 days. The Terrapins feature a three-headed scoring attack, with a trio of players averaging over 13.5 points a game. If Brandon Taylor fails to score 10 against Maryland, D.J. Newbill will be the only Nittany Lion averaging in double-digits this season.
Freshman Melo Trimble leads Maryland with 15.5 points and three assists an outing. Newbill, meanwhile, has dropped off slightly his last three games, scoring less than his season average in each.
“They’re really skilled, really talented, phenomenal freshman,” Chambers said of Maryland before the first matchup. “It’ll be fun to compete and see what happens.”
Saturday will further mark the second of three consecutive ranked opponents Penn State faces as it begins its final stretch of conference play. Each team is ranked higher than the previous, and culminates with next Wednesday’s home slate against No. 6 Wisconsin.
How to Make Them Disappear Completely
John Graham, a former Penn Stater, torched the Nittany Lions for a career-high 16 points the last time the teams met. Don’t expect that to happen again.
The Lions did an effective job slowing Trimble, who went 0-for-5 from the field, limping to four points. Penn State will have to limit Graham and Trimble to have a chance Saturday night.
Offensively, Penn State wins when Newbill gets his points, along with at least two other big performances from role players. Should Taylor hit three threes again as he has done in the past three games, and if Geno Thorpe, who led the Lions in their win against Nebraska, is able to score, the Lions will have a favorable chance. Only Thorpe and Newbill scored in double-digits in the first meeting at College Park, but at least three will be needed to take down the Terrapins on Saturday.
And if Penn State wins one of these games, it could strengthen its case for an
NCAA NIT bid. At least there are moral victories.
KenPom Game Prep
Penn State, despite its miserable road performances, doesn’t get blown out at home. In fact, especially this season, it’s usually a close game. The Nittany Lions play down to bad teams, and play up to good teams. So expect this to be a close game.
I think Newbill is primed for a big home game after several, for his standards, sub-par performances. I hate to say that the Bryce Jordan Center could make a substantial difference, but the first night conference weekend game could provide a rowdy atmosphere. Or, of course, it might not.
Allow us to be optimistic. It’s not easy being a Penn State basketball fan. Penn State 72, Maryland 68.