In what was its best defensive effort of the season thus far, Penn State suffocated a Rutgers to earn a 66-49 victory. The Scarlet Knights had been averaging nearly 82 points per game across its previous four games.
The Nittany Lions defense controlled the gents from Piscataway from start to finish on Tuesday the win. That's now three wins out of four for Penn State, with the lone loss coming in a narrow defeat to then-No. 3 Purdue.
|PTS OFF TURNOVERS||18||11|
|SECOND CHANCE POINTS||8||10|
|POINTS IN THE PAINT||30||20|
|FREE THROW PERCENTAGE||80%||50%|
|LEADING SCORER||SAM SESSOMS (17)||CLIFFORD OMORUYI (12 POINTS)|
Ron Harper Jr., who has five showings of at least 20 points this season, including a 29-point effort against Nebraska just this past weekend, was held in check all night and finished with just 7 points on 2-of-9 shooting. Geo Baker, was also quiet most of the game and finished with only 7 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
As a team, Rutgers shot just 33.9 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from three. The Nittany Lions also forced 15 turnovers, leading to 18 points. Forward Clifford Omoruyi was the only Scarlet Knights player to reach 10-plus points (12 points, 6-of-9 shooting).
This was far from Penn State's best offensive showing, yet the Nittany Lions paired some timely shots with that stifling defense to move to 8-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten.
Micah Shrewsberry said before the season started that he wanted his team to play gritty, not pretty in order to win. This game answered that call and then some.
The first half saw neither team develop much of a rhythm on offense. The two sides were scoreless in the first three minutes before a Jalen Pickett jumper got things started. It was the Nittany Lions who found their footing first, taking a 21-8 lead at the 8:16 mark and prompting a timeout from Rutgers coach Steve Pickell.
The Scarlet Knights battled back to cut the deficit to eight at halftime and then trimmed it to six with an Omoruyi dunk to open the second frame. Penn State came right back with a layup from Greg Lee, though, and that proved to be a theme for the rest of the second half.
Every time Rutgers threatened, the Nittany Lions weathered the storm. A 3-pointer from Harper Jr. looked as though it would give the Scarlet Knights new life with just a 4-point hole. But Penn State scored on its next three possessions to push its lead back to 12.
The gap would hover around there until the game approached its home stretch. Jumpers from Jalen Pickett and Sam Sessoms, followed by back-to-back trips of two made free throws from John Harrar and Myles Dread saw the lead balloon to 18 and the Nittany Lions closed out the W in comfortable fashion.
Penn State had four players in double figures scoring, with Sessoms responding from his scoreless night against Purdue to lead all scorers with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He also added six assists in what was his best performance in over a month.
John Harrar was also big for the Nittany Lions, finishing with 16 points and 6 rebounds. Pickett and Seth Lundy also reached double figures with 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Three wins out of a stretch of four games in nine days has to leave Micah Shrewsberry feeling pretty good about his team. There is plenty to clean up for sure -- another 13 turnovers on the tonight -- but it's hard not to be impressed with the coaching job he's done to this point. The Nittany Lions are right in the thick of it in a crowded middle pack of the Big Ten.
Penn State will return to the court on Sunday for its second meeting with No. 16 Ohio State. The Buckeyes won the first matchup on 76-64 back on Dec. 5.