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Know Your Enemy: No. 4 Penn State Hoops vs. No. 1 Notre Dame

Despite being dominated by Temple for three quarters in Wednesday’s NIT first round game, Penn State men’s basketball was somehow able to wake up just in time to steal the win from the Owls late in the fourth quarter, snatching a 63-57 victory.

Now, the Nittany Lions travel to Notre Dame in South Bend for a matchup at noon Saturday. The Fighting Irish are the No. 1 seed on this side of the bracket, narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament field. They enter this game with a 21-14 record, even after losing ACC Preseason Player of the Year Bonzi Colson for 15 regular season games.

The all-time record between the two teams is 3-1 in favor of Penn State, and interestingly enough all three wins against Notre Dame have come in tournament games: the 1953 NCAA Tournament, and in the 2000 and 2009 NIT Semifinals.

Zeroing In On Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish won 21 games this year, even after losing Colson for nearly half of the season. All-ACC third teamer Matt Farrell also missed five games this season, and the team lost freshman guard D.J. Harvey in February.

Fortunately for Coach Mike Brey, Colson and Farrell entered the conference tournament healthy, and followed a win against Pitt with a 21-point comeback victory over Virginia Tech.

“He’s a great basketball player,” Chambers said of Colson. “I’m sure if they had him for most of the year, we wouldn’t be at Notre Dame. He can hurt you in a lot of different ways. He scores on every level, he’s very tough.”

The Fighting Irish do two things very well: spread shooters around their star player and avoid committing fouls. Notre Dame’s the best in the country with fouls, averaging just more than 12 fouls per game. This leads to very few free scoring opportunities at the line for the team’s opponents.

Colson has averaged 19.9 points and 10.2 rebounds, shooting 50 percent from the field. The 6’6″, 225-pound forward can even step out and shoot the deep ball some himself, hitting 29 percent of his three-point attempts.

The perimeter support around him is composed of senior Farrell and two sharp-shooting sophomores: T.J. Gibbs and John Mooney. Farrell is a 39 percent shooter from beyond the arc, Gibbs makes 40 percent of his three-point attempts, and Mooney leads the team in efficiency with a 43 percent mark for the year from downtown.

“They’re a great passing team, a great shooting team, they can hurt you in a lot of ways,” Chambers said.

Another key piece on the perimeter is the Fighting Irish’s version of Josh Reaves — junior guard Rex Pflueger. The 6’6″ guard is regarded as the best defender on the team, taking on the best scorer on the opposing team each game and rarely leaving the floor. The junior has also served as a decent scoring option, finishing in double figures in 14 contests this season.

The lone true big man worth noting for Notre Dame is Martinas Geben, a 6’10” senior forward from Lithuania. The 250-pound big man only plays about 24 minutes per game, yet averages 11 points and eight rebounds for the Fighting Irish. Geben is shooting 60 percent from the field this year, giving the Nittany Lions something to worry about without Mike Watkins.

How To Watch

Penn State-Notre Dame tips off at noon Saturday at the Joyce Center in South Bend. The game will be aired on ESPN.

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About the Author

Mitch Stewart

Mitch is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism from Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to his role with Onward State, Mitch talks about all the #sprots on Penn State's CommRadio. To contact Mitch, feel free to send him an e-mail at [email protected], and if you really don't value your social media accounts, follow him as he yells on Twitter about Penn State basketball @mitchystew.

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