Arrrrrrrrgggggghhhhh! (Chambers/Getty Images)
Make fun of the final score all you want. Folks in Happy Valley are not going to care that they won by a football score. When Jordan Taylor's game-tying field goal attempt sailed wide left (couldn't resist) and Penn State ran out the clock, the result was that the Nittany Lions were one step away from a possible NCAA Tournament bid.
Besides the fact that the winning team shot 33% from the field, the strangest part about this game is that Penn State actually jumped out to an 18-2 lead in the first 10 minutes. Point guard Tim Frazier led the charge with 4 points, 3 dimes and a steal during the run, while forward David Jackson scored 7 points during the onslaught and then did not score again for the rest of the game. Give the Lions credit for spreading the ball around. If it had just been the Battle and Brooks show for those ten magical minutes, one of them likely would have ended the game in double figures. Instead, Battle led PSU with 9 points by hitting a 3-pointer on State's very first possession and then not hitting on another field goal until there were 5 minutes and 29 seconds left in the game.
Although the 18-2 run would seem to give Penn State enough of a cushion to last for the entire game, they actually only led 20-16 at halftime. The Badgers stormed back in the first half's final 10 minutes on the strength of their stars, Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer. By the 14 minute mark of the 2nd half, Penn State's lead had completely evaporated and the score stood at 22-22.
So, despite the "boring" score and lack of consistent shooting, this game actually was exciting down the stretch. With just 2 and a half minutes left, Talor Battle hit a 3-pointer to give State a seemingly insurmountable 5-point lead, but a couple of possessions later, Keaton Nankivil struck back with his own 3-pointer to cut the lead back to 2 with about a minute remaining. After Battle missed a layup that would have made PSU comfortable, Jordan Taylor had a great look from distance to take the lead, but was off target. Battle made things interesting by missing his second free throw on the ensuing possession, but with time running out, Taylor could only manage an air ball and Penn State held on.
Despite the "ugly" tag that this game will inevitably receive, there was actually a good bit of non-ugliness involved. For one, neither team turned it over much. Penn State had 7 and Wisconsin had 5. There were also only 26 total fouls in the game, so at least the "action" was broken up too much. I'm not trying to polish this one too much, but if you think about it, the game could have been a lot worse. In fact, an uglier game with more fouls would have resulted in a higher score because of all the free throws taken. So, really the 36-33 score indicates the cleanliness of play. Bad play, yes. Poor shooting, yes. But they played good clean defense without fouling, and that helped make this game semi-watchable.
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