The Minute After: Penn State

  • 03/11/2023 7:16 pm in

Editor’s note: Ryan is out on paternity leave. Justin Albers will be writing The Minute After in his absence.

Thoughts on a 77-73 loss to the Nittany Lions:

If there’s one thing Indiana has taught us this year, it’s that you shouldn’t turn off any game until the final buzzer sounds. The Hoosiers have played in one-possession games all year, they’ve allowed teams to come back late when they’ve had large leads, and in Saturday’s Big Ten tournament semifinal in Chicago, they nearly completed a comeback for the ages after sleepwalking for much of the afternoon.

After Indiana battled back from 12 down to tie the game at 47-all with 10:23 to go, Penn State put its foot on the gas and built a comfortable 72-57 lead with 2:05 left. But again, despite how poorly they played all day, the Hoosiers didn’t quit.

They used full-court pressure to go on an improbable 16-2 run over the next 92 seconds, cutting the Penn State lead to 74-73 with 33 seconds remaining. After two Penn State free throws on the other end, freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino had a decent look at a game-tying 3-pointer that fell harmlessly off the rim as the tenth-seeded Nittany Lions held on for a 77-73 win to advance to the Big Ten tournament title game against Purdue on Sunday.

Now, Indiana will wait for its name to be called when the NCAA tournament bracket is revealed on Sunday night. Most experts project the Hoosiers as a 4-seed, which was unlikely to change this weekend.

Saturday was another quintessential example of the 2023 Indiana basketball experience. It can be incredibly frustrating for fans at times and quite enjoyable at others – often in the same 40 minutes of basketball.

Like they did Friday night against Maryland, the third-seeded Hoosiers came out inspired, building an early 12-6 lead over Penn State. But, again, like it did against the Terrapins, that lead quickly dissipated as the Nittany Lions scored the next 13 points and maintained a comfortable lead for the rest of the first half.

It’s a script that has become quite familiar for these Hoosiers. Entering Saturday, they’d trailed at the half in seven of their previous eight games, but went 5-3 in that stretch. In one of those three losses, they erased a 19-point halftime lead to tie the game at Northwestern before losing by two.

That was the story again on Saturday, but like the game at Northwestern, the Hoosiers dug themselves too deep a hole to climb out of.

Like Alex and I covered during this week’s ‘Podcast on the Brink’ episode, Penn State is the type of team that the Hoosiers really struggle against. Led by former Purdue and Boston Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry – one of the best coaches in all of college basketball – the Nittany Lions play an NBA-style offense with a roster full of floor-spacing shooters and a strong, ball-dominant star in Jalen Pickett running the show.

Indiana lacks the guard and wing depth to match up with teams with a roster makeup like Penn State. Race Thompson, for example, isn’t built to chase shooters around the floor for 40 minutes. And because the Hoosiers don’t often see teams that play that style, they’ve struggled to adjust when they do.

On Saturday, the Nittany Lions got their eight 3-pointers from five different players, and on the other end, Indiana seemed to have tired legs from chasing Penn State’s shooters as they repeatedly left jump shots well short.

And then there was Pickett, who was able to play in space and back and bully his way to his spots because of the shooting threats all around him. The second-team All-American went for a game-high 28 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists.

Pickett is going to get his against most teams, and Penn State is going to make shots. What likely frustrates Mike Woodson most is what his team failed to do in the areas they could control.

Penn State is last – per the NCAA’s statistics – in all of college basketball in offensive rebounding and free throw attempts, and yet, the Nittany Lions beat the Hoosiers in both on Saturday. They rebounded 28.1 percent of their missed shots against Indiana, and went 23-of-26 from the charity stripe. Penn State entered Saturday attempting only 10 free throws per game and making eight.

Meanwhile, the Hoosiers, who attempt nearly 18 free throws per game, got there only 11 times on Saturday.

What’s all of that mean? Well, it says even though it may not have been an ideal matchup for the Hoosiers, they didn’t lose this game because of Penn State’s 3-point shooting. They lost it because the Nittany Lions were the far more aggressive team and played harder than the Hoosiers did for most of the afternoon.

Trayce Jackson-Davis did what he does with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and Tamar Bates played one of his better games of the year with 14 points in 24 minutes. But if Indiana wants to make any noise in the NCAA tournament, Hood-Schifino has to be much more assertive offensively, the Hoosiers have to stay locked in defensively rather than picking and choosing times to communicate with each other, and above all else, they have to be tougher than their opponent.

That didn’t happen on Saturday. This Indiana team is capable, and they’re resilient – the way Bates and Malik Reneau played in Chicago gives the Hoosiers more reason for hope – but they have to play hard and stay connected all the time, not just when they fall behind by double digits.

The Hoosiers now have at least five days to regroup before they play again, and at the end of the day, extra rest and avoiding another battle with Zach Edey and Purdue may not be the worst thing.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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