At the end of February, you need a reason to play hard. The Penn State Nittany Lions have found their reason to be in retribution. And they continue to give it to Big Ten opponents who are less suspicious and less motivated.
For the fifth time in seven games, the Lions won a virtual carbon copy of their last home game in February, except against a much better opponent. The state dominated all the breakthroughs, with the exception of 51 seconds, in drill 78-61 of Maryland, ranked No. 17. And it was not that close; PSU led by 29 halfway through the second half. Lamar Stevens once again led the Lions with 24 points on 8 points out of 14, but he had a lot of help. Here are four takeaways from another surprising eruption at State College.
1. Most of the time, everyone runs into a wall, but Jamari Wheeler has blown against his.
A reader recently compared the emergence this year of avant-garde Jamari Wheeler to the blossoming of avant-garde Tim Frazier in February 2011, and the result is very similar. Same type of super speed. The same kind of growing trust ends up breaking through.
Although I felt that Frazier was about to make an appearance when Lions were unlikely to be in the last NCAA program position eight years ago. I can not say that I have seen Wheeler's offensive transformation happen this year. It's a leap forward in some games. But like Frazier, that meant the whole difference in the world for his team.
Wheeler has always played hard, but not with the offensive conviction that he has now. Even if he does not travel a million miles an hour without an apparent destination as he had done too often before, the game seems to slow down for him. Or maybe it's just the tired legs of his opponents in February. While everyone hangs out a bit while college players often start Groundhog Day, Wheeler looks like the season started last week.
And on defense, he has been a force all year. On Wednesday, he owned goaltender Anthony Cowan of Maryland, to the point that Terrapin coach Mark Turgeon finally put his team bench tied with big brown Bruno Fernando. Wheeler was spearheading a Penn State defense that has never been as good as in the first 20 minutes. The Lions were like a fluid whole, a bowl of hot soup surrounding and burning the Terps.
And with the ball, Wheeler suddenly plays with his head on a pivot and his eyes wide open, seeing his teammates and delivering. Cowan's 15 points on Wheeler's 1 could not have been more misleading. The window for judging the leaders was their help: turnover rate – 0: 5 for Cowan; 7: 3 for Wheeler.
The game's signature sequence came early in the second half. Penn State had taken a 42-20 lead at halftime and Maryland was trying to take the initiative in the first minutes following the intermission. But Wheeler feeds Stevens consecutively during the break. First, it was a landfill for Stevens in the right corner, then another breakaway after an absence from Maryland and a Stevens discovery coming from the left wing for a dunk and a 49-24 Bulge at 4:30 pm. It was at this point that a disgusted Turgeon made a complete 5-on-5 line change and seated Cowan and Fernando for the next three minutes. Which brings us to …
2. Freshmen are not only brilliant but insightful, especially Myles Dread.
It is one thing for freshmen to acclimatize and feel comfortable by the end of the conference season. It is usually hard enough for them because the physical drainage of a long year has usually put them away.
Not this group. I do not know if I've ever seen real freshmen look as sturdy as winger Myles Dread and combo goalkeeper Rasir Bolton are doing now, as Mars approaches. And in the few minutes he wins, Myreon Jones plays boldly and without fear. Its development after a deviation from Reaves and a Dread alarm wire represented the game's biggest lead – 60-31. It's an impressive class.
In particular, the dread begins to resemble a young Buddy Hield, as every trey he throws from this rock-solid foundation seems to be. he believe they will go there. His three goals in the first few minutes, then a wrong ball and a step in the arc, count for 8 points in the Lions 14-3. In the 11th minute, Dread already had 15 points after his third 3 – pointer had put the Nits up 25-11. He also suffered a foul on a pair of trey trials and achieved six free throws in eight attempts; Dread had not made more than 2 draws in a match all year.
3. After this frustrating 0-10 B1G start, Lions have a late motivation, unlike others.
Tired teams that know they are either struggling with NCAAs or have no chance to start often start being posted in February or in a match. We have seen Purdue, Michigan, Nebraska and now Maryland all enter the Jordan Center last month, looking if they are not exhausted, at least lightly grilled. And they are facing a Penn State team unleashed with a cause.
Everyone pays for the heavy losses of Lions single digits in December and January. The fact that they hung together to finally get out of their discomfort gave Nits' late-season juice that many other teams simply do not have at the moment. They play as well as any other player in the league, while most people are just trying to make the difference before the start of the Big Ten tournament in Chicago. That translates into a 15-year-plus lead at 10:00 into the second half of PSU's last three games – eruptions of Nebraska and Maryland sandwiched around an end-to-end victory in Illinois.
When you keep losing games in the last few minutes, and then you finally overcome the bump, you can release a lot of frustration. Lions are certain that this is happening. The only team they played last month and really needed to win was Ohio State (Ohio State) and the Buckeyes.
In comparison, this game just did not matter so much for the Terrapins. Turgeon's fourth place in the NCAA in five Big Ten seasons is a given. If it was not the case, he would not put his two best players 3 minutes earlier in the second half with his team down> 20 just to score a point. The Terps came in 21-7 overall and only in fourth place in the Big Ten. Now at 12-6, they are still. They win their last two games against Michigan and Minnesota, both at home, and the Terps are fourth and double bye in Chicago. Even if they lose another, they will probably dominate Wisconsin for fourth place.
4. Penn State is suddenly hard to get a pass to Chicago itself.
The Lions are now in a tie for three for the eleventh place with Nebraska and Indiana at 5-12 in the B1G. In order to avoid playing the first day of the Big Ten tournament, they must earn the 10th place. This means that they must stand out not only from Huskers and Hoosiers, but also from Illinois or Rutgers (6-11). With the victory over Maryland, this goal is now achievable, as the Illini and Scarlet Knights remain on schedule. A swept season of Illinois and a win of @Rutgers for a split could do the trick.
The PSU must first go to Madison for a 1:00 am EST Saturday (BTN) tip with 5th place Wisconsin. Speaking of February blahs, the Badgers lost 3 of 5 after a 9-3 start in the league and were not particularly good in any of those games.
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DAVID JONES: [email protected]