Penn State Basketball: Lions Establish Defensive Identity at Emerald Coast Classic

By Vincent Lungaro on November 29, 2021 at 8:00 am
Mar 3, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Marcus Carr (5) looks to dribbles the ball around Penn State Nittany Lions guard Myles Dread (2) during the second half at Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State State defeated Minnesota 84-65. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

After the opening night win over Youngstown State, Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry said his team's identity needed to be "gritty, not pretty." 

Safe to say after a couple of defensive slugfests down at the Emerald Coast Classic, the Nittany Lions (4-2) are starting to realize that identity. 

Penn State capped off its time in Florida for the early-season tournament with a 60-45 win over Oregon State. The Nittany Lions took LSU wire-to-wire in a 68-63 loss the night before. Each of those two results marked a season-low for points scored by the Beavers and Tigers. 

In Saturday's consolation matchup with the Beavers, Shrewsberry's team held the Beavers to a 31.4 percent clip from the field and just 23.5 percent from 3-point range. The 45 points surrendered to the 2021 Pac 12 Tournament Champions marked the first time Penn State had held an opponent to 45 points or less since 2018 in a win over Rutgers.

"Even while we were sluggish early in the game, we still defended, we still guarded, and that's something we want to do each and every game and that gives us a chance to win," Shrewsberry said after Saturday's win. "Proud of our guys' effort – it was a total team effort, everybody that played really helped out. I think we're taking steps and moving in the right direction."

Even in the defeat to the Tigers on Friday, there were signs that an identity is being built for how this year's version of the Nittany Lions are going to play. Tough to out-work. A little bit of a slower pace. Defensively sound. 

LSU is clearly the more talented team, I don't think anyone would argue that point. The Tigers entered Friday's matchup with five blowout wins, averaging nearly 90 points a game. But Penn State's defensive gameplan had an affect on the Tigers, especially in a first half where the SEC side 28.2 percent from the field, including 14.3 percent from three. 

Shrewsberry said afterward that one of the team's areas of focus on Monday against Cornell was sprinting back and building a wall defensively. Of course, Cornell isn't LSU, but the Big Red thrive on turning the opponent over and getting out quickly for transition buckets. 

LSU wants to play the same type of game at a higher level and the Nittany Lions were able to hold the Tigers to just 11 fast break points. 

While the Nittany Lions' offense ultimately sputtered too much to take down LSU, the defense kept them in the game far longer than many expected.

"I told our guys that there are no moral victories out here. We need to play that way every single time to give us a chance," Shrewsberry said on Friday. "If you defend like that, you give yourself a chance. We didn't play great offense, but (LSU's) a good defensive team themselves."

That has to be the recipe this season for Penn State, particularly in a Big Ten where most teams are going to have the talent advantage over the Nittany Lions. 

"We turned this into a Big Ten game," Shrewsberry said. "That's what we do with our defense...This is going to be the Big Ten. These are the types of wars we're going to be experience in the Big Ten."