Five Takeaways from Penn State Basketball's Win Over Wagner

By Vincent Lungaro on December 9, 2021 at 1:21 pm
Dec 8, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions guard Jalen Pickett (22) looks to pass the ball as Wagner Seahawks guard Alex Morales (2) defends during the first half at Bryce Jordan Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
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Penn State got back in the win column on Wednesday with a 74-54 win over Wagner. The Nittany Lions used a dominant second-half effort to pull away from the Seahawks and brought their record to 5-4 ahead of a two-game road trip.

1. Jalen Pickett is starting to shine

Jalen Pickett started his Penn State career with a decent amount of hype. He arrived in Happy Valley as a former MAAC Conference Player of the Year and had the build of a player who could thrive in the physical environment of the Big Ten.

It took him a few games to get adjusted to a new environment, but Pickett looks as though he's starting to find his footing with the Nittany Lions. He's now scored at least 14 points in five of the last six games, leading or co-leading the team in scoring in back-to-back games, and is averaging 14.3 points per game.

You wouldn't characterize Pickett as slow – or maybe you can – but he does certainly play at his own pace within the framework of the offense. And that's a good thing for a Penn State team that's still trying to find its identity in Micah Shrewsberry's offense. 

"I think he's unique because it's like the old cartoons – The rabbit takes off and the tortoise is still like hanging out by the free throw or by the starting line and that's how Jalen is," Shrewsberry said. "He just, kind of, slowly gets his way to the lane and then people come over and help. But he plays at such a pace where he's always under control. He's very rarely not in control."

It hasn't just been his scoring that's been a highlight recently, it's also been his playmaking abilities that have caught the eye of Shrewsberry.

In the last six games, Pickett is averaging a team-best 4.5 assists per game. 

"He threw a pass in the second half late [against Wagner] off a pick-and-roll to a guy across on the other side of the court. There's not many people that can do that, that can play that way," Shrewsberry said. "He's got good size, he's got long arms, he can pass over the defense. That makes him unique in how he plays." 

Wednesday night's game also marked an important milestone for the former Siena guard, as he reached 500 career assists. 

"He’s a very unselfish player," fellow guard Sam Sessoms said. "If he has it going, he might get more aggressive on his shots but he’s always trying to find a window. If he sees the passing window, he’s going to give it up. It’s great to play with him."

2. offense comes alive 

Only leading by five at halftime, and struggling to break down a unique 1-3-1 zone from Wagner, Penn State's offense came to life in a big way in the second half. 

Shrewsberry's halftime adjustments, particularly finding openings in the zone at the elbow or at the free-throw line, made a difference. 

The Nittany Lions outscored the Seahawks 42-27 in the second half, and even that wasn't a complete reflection of the dominance displayed by Penn State. Shrewsberry opted to get some playing time for some of his reserves after the four-minute mark of the second half, otherwise, the margin probably would have been greater.

"We came out after halftime and broke it pretty easily," Sessoms said. "Coach Shrewsberry drew up a great plan in the locker room to attack it and that’s what we did in the second half. We had a lot of guys in the right place and making the right plays."

Penn State shot 53.8 percent (14-26) from the field and drilled five 3-pointers in the second half.

3. TURNOVER struggles remain

For all the good in their offensive performance, there was also some bad.

The turnover troubles continue to plague the Nittany Lions, with 17 coming against the Seahawks. The turnovers also led to 17 points for Wagner. That's now double-digit turnovers in all but one game this season for Penn State. 

"We were just being sloppy with the ball," forward Seth Lundy said. "Nobody turned it over, but it was unforced turnovers. We had a problem with the ball, losing passes and passing it to the other team. We have to do better by taking care of the ball, being stronger, and being better decision-makers. We were better in the second half and it showed."

The Nittany Lions did manage to create turnovers of their own, forcing the Seahawks into 15 of them. That's a season-high for turnovers forced by Penn State and now gives them at-least 10 turnovers forced in back-to-back games. 

4. Wagner's 3-point shooting doesn't go against the norm

Finally, a game where an opponent comes into the contest with poor 3-point shooting and doesn't go against the norm versus Penn State.

The Seahawks entered the game shooting just 29.7 percent from deep and those numbers didn't change much. Wagner was just 2-of-14 from three.

Part of that was from Wagner missing some decent looks, but it also in large part because the Nittany Lions did a much better job of contesting shots around the arc.

5. GREG LEE GETTING CLOSER TO HIS DEBUT

For the first time this season, transfer forward Greg Lee was a participant in shootaround and pregame warmups.

Lee has been sidelined by a leg injury suffered on the eve of this season and has missed the first nine games for Penn State.

Shrewsberry said afterward that the team will bring Lee along slowly and he will continue to increase his workload each day. He also noted that Lee is closer to making his debut than another sidelined forward Jevonnie Scott, who is still out because of NCAA eligibility issues.

Adding Lee to the rotation in time for the bulk of the Big Ten schedule, which begins at the turn of the New Year, would be a big addition for the Nittany Lions.

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