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What We Learned: Penn State vs Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament

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An ugly game at least turns into an exciting one as Penn State prevails over Iowa in the biggest B1G Tournament upset so far.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Paint was chipped, passes were sailed, coaches were T'd up. The first twenty minutes of this game played slower and more laboriously than the first twenty minutes of Tree of Life. Iowa went into the locker room with an eight point lead over Penn State, and given what the first frame looked like, it seemed like the Hawkeyes were destined to cruise to an easy victory. There were a combined fifteen field goals. Iowa shot 32% from the field while Penn State shot 26%.DJ Newbill scored only scored seven points. All signs pointed to a game that only B1G Purists (and people who enjoy the pace and efficiency of reading a restaurant menu with a magnifying glass) could appreciate. Then PSU came out of halftime with some crucial adjustments: Newbill, who was doubled most of the first half, played the role of distributor and catalyzed an early Nittany Lions run, tying the game with about twelve minutes remaining in the game. PSU extended the lead, the Hawkeyes clawed back, and PSU eventually hit a few big shots to win 67-58.

What We Learned

Penn State is (ugh) Mentally Tough

I tend to hate that characterization when it comes to talking about teams or players, but its most acceptable application is during tournament time. I said yesterday that PSU's near-collapse is usually indicative of a team's mental toughness or their inability to build off success. The game today pretty clearly indicates that PSU is mentally tough. Their eight point deficit at halftime probably seemed like it was twenty given the pace and quality of the first half, but they came out for the second half on a (relative) tear: Newbill stopped forcing shots and had a few nifty assists in the lane and they tied it up with about twelve minutes remaining.

After building up a multi-possession lead between then and the five minute mark, the Hawkeyes came storming back to make it a one possession game. All of PSU's losses in the B1G season by single digits loomed overhead at that point, but they withstood the storm and got a few stops while hitting a couple big shots to stretch the lead back out to six with a minute to play. Even non-Penn State fans should be rooting for this team on some level because they may not play pretty, but their two games so far in the B1G tournament have been fun as hell.

Don't Let DJ Newbill See His Shots Hit the Bottom of the Net

Iowa did a great job of forcing Newbill into bad shots or passes in the first half, and he didn't score during the first throes of the Penn State run to open the second half. Then with about seven minutes left Iowa coach Fran McCaffery drew a technical from the bench for complaining about a no-call on a pretty clear goaltend. Newbill went to the line, hit both free throws, then scored five consecutive points to extend the Penn State lead to seven. He finished with 18 points, a shade under his season average.

Both of These Teams Unpredictably Just Go Cold

There was a close-to five minute period in the first half when both teams combined for a grand total of zero field goals. Penn State went nine minutes during that stretch. It should be a little disconcerting for Iowa fans that during that drought in the first half and their seven minute scoreless drought in the second the Hawkeyes couldn't get a clean look inside against a smaller and less skilled Penn State team. They were forced to jack up half-open threes or long twos, not a recipe for continued success in March, especially since this game may have knocked them down a seed line for the NCAA Tournament. As for Penn State, droughts like that are just going to happen, even when they're not standing around and refusing to run an offensive set for some reason; hopefully Newbill will be able to drain a thirty footer or two to jolt the offense out of stagnancy when that happens.

Hey, Other Guys Play For Penn State Too!

Ross Travis had a great game, scoring 17 points while pulling down 7 boards and had a reverse layup dagger with about a minute remaining. Geno Thorpe was only 4/12 from the field but was far more aggressive than he was yesterday and gave the offense more flexibility. If PSU can get Newbill, Travis, Thorpe, and Garner to all play well tomorrow, they'll have a shot against the Boilermakers.

Iowa Played High Volume Offense for Two Guys out of Necessity

Jarrod Uthoff and Aaron White combined for 27 shots while the rest of the team combined for 30. There were long stretches of time where it seemed like no one on the floor for the Hawkeyes could get a clean look, which led to a lot of forced drives and jumpers from these two. The scary thing is that none of them seemed like particularly bad shots considering how few open looks the rest of the team got. They're going to need to distribute offensive production if they want to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

Fran McCaffery is Kind of Crazy

Not so much learned as reaffirmed. He's fun crazy, though.