Penn State-Rutgers Preview: Lions Limp Home Looking for a Win

By Brad Peterson on January 21, 2021 at 11:25 am
Jan 15, 2021; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Ron Harper Jr. (24) drives to the basket as Wisconsin Badgers forward Micah Potter (11) and forward Aleem Ford (2) defend during the second half at Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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Rutgers Scarlet Knights
7-5 (3-5 B1G)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
7:00 p.m. EST – Thursday, Jan. 21
BRYCE JORDAN CENTER
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA
Watch Info: BTN | GAMETRACKER
KenPom Rank: 39

Penn State (3-6, 0-5, #44 NET) continues their NBA-like schedule with their 3rd game in five days, returning to the BJC to take on a struggling Rutgers (7-5, 3-5, # 49 NET) squad who have lost four straight. Last time out, the Lions went down to Illinois 79-65 in what was their worst performance of the season. Once again, Penn State struggled to defend the paint, with Kofi Cockburn leading all scorers with 21 points. Myreon Jones led PSU with 20 points, his 4th straight of at least 20, and Seth Lundy added 13. Rutgers was defeated by Wisconsin at the RAC 60-54 on January 15 in a game Rutgers led with 8 minutes to play. Jacob Young was the only Scarlet Knight in double figures with 19.

These two long-time eastern foes have played 69 times in a series going back to 1950, with Penn State holding a 39-30 advantage. The teams split two games last year, with Rutgers winning the first meeting in New Jersey, 72-61, and Penn State exacting revenge in Happy Valley, 65-64. Both teams were headed for the NCAA Tournament before the COVID shutdown. It would have been Rutgers' first time dancing since 1991. The teams have split the last six games played, with nobody scoring over 72 points during that time.

Rutgers started the season 6-0 and has gone 1-5 since. They were ranked for 6 weeks in the AP poll, reaching a high of #11 on December 21. As mentioned earlier, Rutgers has lost four straight, to Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.

Projected Starters
Penn State Illinois
G Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Sr. G Geo Baker - 6'4" - Sr.
G Myreon Jones - 6'3" - Jr. G Montez Mathis - 6'4" - Jr.
G Izaiah Brockington - 6'4" - Jr. G Jacob Young - 6'2" - Sr.
F Seth Lundy - 6'6" - So. F Ron Harper Jr. - 6'6" - Jr.
F John Harrar - 6'9" -  Sr. C Myles Johnson - 6'11" - Jr.

Scouting Report

The Scarlet Knights are led by Junior forward Ron Harper Jr., who leads the team in scoring at 18.6 PPG, good for 5th in the conference. He is also the 2nd leading rebounder, with 6.3 boards per game. Harper hits 42% from behind the arc so he is equally effective inside and out.

Texas transfer Jacob Young, along with Harper, leads the team in minutes at 33 per game. Young is a blur on the court, with incredible end-to-end speed. Young averages 15.8 PPG and is the best FT shooter among the starters at 71.4% (more on that later). Young has scored in double figures in 11 straight games.

This is an experienced team that will grind every possession, mix it up, and plays aggressive defense for 30 seconds all over the floor. Like all Steve Pikiell teams, they will play hard and crash the boards looking for second-chance points and look to force turnovers for easy transition baskets. The one glaring weakness is free throw shooting; as a team, Rutgers shoots 57% from the stripe, #339 in all of D-I. For once, Penn State’s excessive fouling may be a positive if Rutgers can’t convert their free throws.

Keys to the Game

  • Take care of the ball. Rutgers averages 8 steals per game and they turn those live ball turnovers into easy baskets. Rutgers can struggle in its half-court offense, so Penn State must value every possession in what shapes up to be a game that will be closely contested.
  • Help for Buckets. Myreon "Buckets" Jones is averaging 15.9 PPG, good for 8th in B1G play. Over his last four games, he has stepped up his game and is hitting 21 PPG. The problem is the supporting cast has been struggling. Brockington, Lundy, and Sessoms all are averaging double figures for the season, but have been inconsistent lately. Penn State needs them to help share the scoring load to give Jones space to keep firing.
  • Fight through the fatigue. This is the third game in five days for the Lions, while Rutgers will be well-rested. With Penn State’s pace of play, tired legs may be cause for concern. Look for shots falling short and no lift when rebounding as evidence of fatigue setting in.

Prediction

These teams have a history of close games, especially in recent years, and their team stats are very similar. If Rutgers shoots 2-19 behind the arc (10.5%), 37% overall from the field, and 28.6% from the FT line, as they did last time out against the Badgers, Penn State should expect to win. This will be a one-possession game, but Penn State will come up short again, falling to 0-6 in league play.

Rutgers 75 Penn State 73

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