Offense sputters as Bo Ryan loses to Ed DeChellis for the first time
Leading up to Saturday's game, you got the sense that Penn State's players, coaches and fans were all starving for another upset win over a ranked team. After two consecutive near-misses on the road, it turns out a little home cooking was all the Nittany Lions needed to satiate themselves, as they topped Wisconsin, 56-52, to renew their NCAA tournament optimism.
As is usually the case, the winning team on Saturday was one that was quicker to the ball. First of all, the Nittany Lions (12-8, 5-4 Big Ten) forced a couple of steals and jump balls early on defense to set the game's tone. Penn State players then used their quickness to out-rebound their Wisconsin counterparts, 29-23, over the course of the afternoon. The difference was also noticeable at the guard position, where Talor Battle and Tim Frazier were repeatedly able to get to the rim against the Badger defense in the second half for scores or easy dump off passes to open teammates.
After carrying a nine-point lead into halftime, Wisconsin (15-5, 5-3) allowed Battle and company to reel off an 18-6 run to start the second half. Wisconsin's cool shooting (and reliance on the outside shot) proved to be their undoing during the pivotal stretch that followed.
Clinging to a 42-40 lead with 6:52 remaining, the Badgers missed 10 of their next 11 shots, including six 3-pointers, as the Lions rattled off an 11-2 spurt to gain control. The only bucket was Jordan Taylor's potential three-point play in which he missed the free throw. Despite getting another chance on a Keaton Nankivil offensive rebound, Wisconsin squandered a huge opportunity to stem the tide when Taylor missed an open layup after a beautiful drive.
Meanwhile Battle was heating up for PSU, scoring 20 of his game-high 22 points after the break. He scored 12 of Penn State's 18 points to start the second half. Coincidentally, Jon Leuer scored all six of UW's points during the run.
On several occasions, Nankivil was caught on an island with Battle after switching with Taylor. Making matters worse, Taylor was also picked up some cheap fouls trying to slow Battle. Wisconsin's junior point guard was also the recipient of an unfortunate double-whammy -- a sneaky forearm shiver by David Jackson plus a moving screen by Andrew Jones -- that sprung Battle for the trey to put Penn State up 38-30.
There was no magic left in Taylor's tank after trying to slow Battle all day. Both Taylor and Josh Gasser wound up fouling out with under a minute to play as Penn State also won the free throw battle. Leuer also had four fouls, while Jackson was the only PSU player with even three. Even if you discount the final eight attempts when UW was forced to foul, the Nittany Lions (12-for-20) still easily bested the Badgers' putrid 2-for-3 performance from the charity stripe.
The field goal shooting from the two teams in each half was strikingly different. Wisconsin dropped from 54% first-half shooting to 32% in the second half. Penn State shot 33% in the opening half, but burned the nets for 63% in the second. Yet Wisconsin missed a number of open shots in the final minute that could have changed the outcome.
"I thought we had some really good looks," Bo Ryan said. "It was one of those days."
Taylor finished with 16 points while Leuer led UW with 18. Wisconsin got zero points from its bench, while Penn State's four bench points from freshman Jermain Marshall wasn't much better.
Early on the Badgers threatened to blow out the host Lions, pushing their lead to 13 points on a Taylor 3-pointer with 7:39 left in the half. But even then, Penn State's offense looked like the more well-oiled machine. Taylor had two poor turnovers in the first several minutes that prevented UW from building an even bigger margin. The Badgers had some success against Penn State's 2-3 zone and were still comfortably in the lead with over six minutes left in the half before back-to-back 3-pointers by senior David Jackson helped pull the Nittany Lions closer.
Battle's senior teammates in the front court were vital. Jones grabbed a career-best 14 rebounds and his length seemed to both Nankivil defensively on a few possessions. Forward Jeff Brooks hit 5-of-6 shots, gathered three steals and blocked two shots.