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Penn State Hoops Slows Down To Earn Ranked Win Over No. 19 Spartans

Penn State men’s basketball plays at the slowest rate of any team in the Big Ten and faster than only five teams in the entire country.

The Nittany Lions average just 63.4 possessions per 40 minutes of play, and things were no different against Michigan State Tuesday night. In fact, head coach Micah Shrewsberry’s planned from the get-go to slow the game down.

“They’re so potent in transition that you’ve got to almost slow it to a crawl. And that’s what we did,” Shrewsberry said after the game. “We made it a half-court game, and we made every possession be magnified.”

Penn State took 56 shots against the Spartans on just 57 possessions, which is far below its average. A lights-out 52% second-half shooting percentage on those carefully chosen shots was just what the Nittany Lions needed to upset No. 19 Sparty.

Shrewsberry didn’t just slow things down for his own team. Michigan State was caught off-balance and was forced to play on Penn State’s terms. The Spartans ran just 61 possessions, far below their 68.1-possession average that sits in the top half of the Big Ten.

So, how did Penn State do this? Well, as Shrewsberry alluded to, lock-down transition defense was a big part of it. Averaging just over 14 fast-break points per game, the Spartans sit only behind Iowa in the conference in that metric. Against Penn State, they had only three, and the Nittany Lions doubled that on their end.

It came down to hustle. On a play where Shrewsberry infamously got his first technical foul as Penn State’s head coach, watch Seth Lundy and John Harrar get back on defense. Despite their visual frustration with the call, they hustle back and forced Michigan State into a half-court offense.

“All five guys on the court, no matter who was on the court at the time, everybody sacrificed for the better of the team,” Lundy said. “We just kept fighting. That’s what we do every single game.”

Another way Penn State controlled the pace of the game was through offensive rebounding. The Nittany Lions won this battle as Harrar, who leads the conference in offensive boards, grabbed six en route to a 16-rebound performance.

Penn State didn’t go far above its season rebounding average, but it was able to secure offensive boards in key moments. Instead of putting those rebounds back up, the Nittany Lions often reset their offense and ticked the shot clock all the way back down — especially late in the game.

Veteran Michigan State coach Tom Izzo acknowledged this as a factor in Sparty’s loss.

“We defended well on the first attempt, but on the second attempt, Harrar killed us on there,” Izzo said. “When you get that many loose balls and don’t come up with them, somebody on the floor’s gotta look in the mirror.”

This slow style of play, mostly caused by stopping the bleeding in transition and hard rebounding, made every possession matter. It’s simple: When you don’t get as many opportunities to score, you better take advantage of them.

Now, here is where Penn State really twisted the dagger. The Nittany Lions have the second-highest turnover percentage in the Big Ten, but the second-place team? Michigan State. With a slower style of play in tow, the Spartans’ mistakes were amplified.

Shrewsberry’s crew commanded the turnover margin Tuesday and got a ranked victory in return — a welcomed development for a team that ranks dead last in the country in opponent turnovers created.

“We were maximizing the shots that we were going to get,” Shrewsberry said. “We made some tough shots, we made some timely shots, and we knocked in our free throws down the stretch.”

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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