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‘It’s Do Or Die’: Writing On The Wall For Penn State Hoops Following Two-Game Slump

Coming off two losses to No. 1 Purdue and Nebraska, Penn State men’s basketball head coach Micah Shrewsberry was blunt regarding recent talks of Penn State’s chances of playing in the NCAA Tournament at the team’s media availability on Monday afternoon.

“There won’t be postseason play if we don’t start guarding people,” Shrewsberry said.

After holding Michigan to 61 points and star player Hunter Dickinson to six, the Nittany Lions allowed Purdue’s Mason Gillis and Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga to have career nights with 29 and 30 points in beat-down defeats, respectively. For context, Gillis and Tominaga average 6.5 and 11.1 points per game, respectively.

“We just don’t have a defensive DNA right now,” Shrewsberry said. “People are scoring at the rim, they’re scoring at the three-point line, really scoring wherever they want to.”

Penn State’s defense this season, although not terrible, hasn’t been great, and definitely is not the “gritty, not pretty” squad we were accustomed to last year.

Looking at the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions sit in the middle of the pack as far as a scoring defense. They average more points than their opponents, shoot the ball better than their opponents, and are one of the better teams in the conference at protecting the ball.

Despite defensive struggles, another problem Penn State faces is translating its high-volume play at home to hostile environments. In games outside the Bryce Jordan Center, the team shoots around 42% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. Compare that to the 49% from the field and 41% from three at home, and the team’s problems are clear as day.

Jalen Pickett pinpointed all of these struggles to one thing: communication.

“Our talk has to be better on the road,” Pickett said. “We’re missing communication on the defensive end and letting people get open shots. You can’t allow people to get into rhythm and get comfortable in their home arena.”

Pickett continued by stating that when his team misses a few shots in a row on the road, it’s important that they stay connected.

“You can’t afford these types of lapses on the road,” Pickett said. “We just got to be communicating on the bench, on the court when it gets loud and different things like that.”

Pickett also mentioned that he and the other captains need to do a better job of being leaders on the road. Whether it’s establishing a curfew or getting early morning workouts, Pickett said it’s on him to make his team more comfortable in hostile environments.

Despite the recent slumps and tweaks to make, Pickett still believes this team is capable of bouncing back.

“We’re still in the position to be in position,” Pickett said. “If we go 2-0 this week, nobody’s even thinking about the last couple of games because we’re right back where we need to be… So, we’re just going to keep fighting and keep grinding and see where we are later.”

With a team full of seniors and graduate transfers, Shrewsberry also got real with his team. While still under contract as the head coach, he told his team that these final eight games won’t be the end of him. However, for the eight seniors, that’s a whole different story.

“I tell these guys all the time, ‘Like it or not, I’m going to be here next year,'” Shrewsberry said. “So, I’m gonna get a chance to coach again and get a chance to try and accomplish what we want to accomplish. I’m gonna get to do it next year. The year after that, and the year after that. If you’re a six-year guy, fifth-year guy, or whatever— it’s this or nothing. It’s this or becoming an accountant. It’s this or becoming a plumber. It’s this or going playing in Croatia.”

Pickett also reiterated Shrewsberry’s point and said that the thought of only eight games left in his collegiate career just fuels him and his team even more.

“It’s do or die at this point,” Pickett said. “So guys got to really lock in as a team, myself included. We got to make some tough decisions for what we want to do what with our time on and off the court. And everybody has one goal here, we want to go to the tournament, [and] we feel like we’re in a good position if we finish strong, we can make it.”

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About the Author

Tobey Prime

Tobey is a senior studying broadcast journalism from Lancaster, PA. He is a major Pittsburgh sports fan and Miami Heat fanatic. When Tobey isn't writing for Onward State, you can catch him looking at photos of his pugs. Send your best insults to [email protected] or sports takes to @tobey_prime on Twitter.

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