Penn State vs Rutgers Preview: Lions Face Red-hot Scarlet Knights

By Vincent Lungaro on January 11, 2022 at 10:27 am
Jan 21, 2021; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights forward Oskar Palmquist (1) defends Rutgers Scarlet Knights guard Caleb McConnell (22) during the second half at Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State defeated Rutgers 75-67. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
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Rutgers Scarlet Knights
9-5 (3-1 B1G)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
6:30 p.m. EST – Tuesday, Jan. 11
BRYCE JORDAN CENTER
UNIVERSITY PARK, PA
Watch Info: BTN | GAMETRACKER
KenPom Rank: 87

Penn State faces a team riding a pretty good hot-streak Tuesday night when the Nittany Lions (7-6, 2-3 Big Ten) face Rutgers (9-5, 3-1) at 6:30 p.m. ET in the Bryce Jordan Center. 

The Scarlet Knights have rattled off four wins in a row overall and have also emerged victorious in three of their opening four Big Ten contests. Rutgers has taken down Maine, Central Connecticut State, Michigan and Nebraska in the four-game winning streak. Coach Steve Pickell's squad also has an impressive home win over Purdue on its résumé. 

Penn State nearly pulled off the same feat on Saturday, but a late run from the Boilermakers held off the upset bid. The Nittany Lions have emerged from their COVID-19 pause an improved team, collecting some good wins over Indiana and Northwestern, and playing Purdue pretty much even on Saturday. 

Jalen Pickett has been at the heart of this mini resurgence for Penn State. He's currently the only Big Ten player averaging at least 18 points and 4.5 assists in conference games, and has also contributed with 3.6 rebounds per game. He netted a double-double in the loss to the Boilermakers, collecting 21 points and 10 assists. 

projected starters

penn state rutgers
G Jaheam Cornwall - 6'0 - Sr. G Geo Baker - 6'4 - Sr.
G Jalen Pickett - 6'4 - Sr. G Caleb McConnell - 6'5 - Sr.
F Seth Lundy - 6'6 - Jr. G Paul Mulcahy - 6'6 - Jr.
F Greg Lee - 6'9 - Sr. F Ron Harper Jr. - 6'6 - Sr.
F John Harrar - 6'9 - Sr. F Clifford Omoruyi - 6'10 - So. 

Series history

Penn State leads the all-time series 44-33 and holds a 28-10 edge when playing at home. 

The Nittany Lions have won four of the last six meetings overall, including last season's lone matchup, a 75-67 Penn State win in which the blue and white never trailed. 

scouting report

The Scarlet Knights are once again led by do-it-all forward Ron Harper Jr. The senior out of Ramsey, New Jersey, leads the Scarlet Knights in scoring (16.3 ppg) and is second on the team in rebounding (7.1 rpg). After struggling from the 3-point line last season, Harper Jr. has improved his outside shooting and holds a 44 percent clip this season. 

Harper Jr. has five 20-point outings this season, including a 29-point showing in the team's most recent win over Nebraska. He represents another challenge for the Penn State defense after facing the Purdue three-headed monster of Jaden Ivey, Trevion Williams and Zach Edey on Saturday. 

“Our 3-point defense has to be good. Ron Harper can get it going from three, he can shoot it from deep. We’re going to need to defend him at the half-court line," Lions coach Micah Shrewsberry said on Monday. "I saw him beat somebody from half court, so we need to pick our defense up, make sure he’s not eurostepping from half court to make a game-winning shot like he did against Purdue.”

The shot in reference from Shrewsberry was Harper Jr.'s incredible game-winning half court heave to defeat the Boilermakers back on Dec. 9. That handed Purdue its first loss of the season to that point. 

Geo Baker, who has been a thorn in Penn State's side in previous meetings, is also back. Baker is second behind Harper Jr. with 11.9 points per game average and is second on the team in assists. 

keys to the game

  • Hold Harper Jr. in check from three. Not to rehash this point too much, but it's certainly a huge key to winning this game if you're Penn State. Harper Jr. can beat you all over the floor, but if you let him get going from 3-point range, it makes it really hard to guard the Scarlet Knights as a whole. 
  • More balance on offense. Jalen Pickett has been amazing and John Harrar has been his usual inspirational self. The Nittany Lions need more consistency from other players, though. Seth Lundy has been really good at times this season and he's also been really frustrating (3-of-10 for 10 points against Purdue). Lundy, Sam Sessoms and Myles Dread were largely ineffective against the Boilermakers. That cannot happen again if Penn State wants to beat Rutgers. Greg Lee is getting better each game in his return for injury and this could be the perfect game for him to have a breakout night. 
  • Take care of the basketball. We've mentioned this as a key to the game for what feels like every game this season. That's because it's been a big problem for the Nittany Lions. The Scarlet Knights thrive off of creating havoc for their opponent and turning them over. In fact, Rutgers averages 7.4 steals per game. Caleb McConnell is the Big Ten's leader in steals and the Scarlet Knights hold the Big Ten's fourth-best assist/turnover ratio. Penn State is 13th in the Big Ten in that same category. 

Prediction

It seems like matchups between Penn State and Rutgers are always tightly contested. Don't expect this one to be much different as both teams come into this one playing their best basketball of the season thus far. This game will go down to the wire in a similar way to Penn State's loss to Purdue this past weekend. Can the Nittany Lions make shots down the stretch to pull off the win this time? 
Prediction: Penn State 72, Rutgers 69

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