Penn State came into the Big Ten Tournament with a purpose. The 13th seeded Nittany Lions sneaked by Nebraska on the opening day and beat Iowa by an impressive 9 point margin before getting the Boilermakers on Friday. In the first 18 minutes of the first half, Penn State picked right back up where it left off, playing tough basketball in this tournament. Penn State took its largest lead of the game at 11 with 1:58 to go in the first half after a 3 pointer by Donovan Jack that put the Lions up 37-26. Arguably one of the most crucial parts of the game, the end of the first half, belonged to Purdue, as the Boilermakers managed to cut the Penn State lead to 5 after a late 3 pointer by Kendall Stephens.
Purdue clawed its way back into the game in the second half and finally retook the lead behind a jumper by Vince Edwards 5 minutes into the second half. The second half was very even with minimal scoring, as each team struggled to create offense or gain any sort of edge. It wasn't until the game was tied at 50 that Purdue was able to run away with this one. The Boilermakers went on a 7-0 run, and the Nittany Lions went more than 6 minutes without scoring a single point. Though Penn State made a final push at the game, Purdue was able to hold on to advance to make its free throws and hold on to advance to the semifinals where they will face Wisconsin.
What We Learned
Purdue Relies Heavily on Its Rebounding to Win Games
Purdue was able to win this game thanks to sound rebounding by a number of players. Purdue utilizes a duo of 7 footers in Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons to pull in boards, but it wasn't either of those two players who was the star of the show on the glass; it was 6'4" guard Jon Octeus. Instead of getting down on himself because of a bad shooting day (1/5 from the field), Jon Octeus found another way to impact the game by pulling down 11 crucial rebounds. In a stretch where the Nittany Lions went cold, Purdue was solid on the glass, and they ended up controlling the rebound margin 37-25. Hammons also had a nice day on the glass with 9 boards.
It is imperative that Purdue rebounds if it wants to win games, and there are fewer teams tougher to out-rebound than Wisconsin, Purdue's semifinal opponent. If the Boilermakers can continually utilize their big men on the glass and in the paint, especially Hammons who had 23 points on the day, the Boilermakers could give Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin a run for their money.
Purdue Plays In Spurts
We've seen a lot of up-and-down in the Boilermakers' play lately. In its final game of the year, Purdue goes down by double digits at home against the Fighting Illini, but rallies in the second half to lead by as many as 13. Similarly, Purdue gets off to a slow start and allows the Nittany Lions to solidify a double digit lead, but Purdue stays poised and ends up winning the game by 5.
The second to last game of the regular season for the Boilermakers was a game in East Lansing against the Spartans, and in this one, Purdue took an early 25-16 lead in the first half. Purdue's lead quickly evaporated though, and the Spartans were able to win at home by 6 points. In the game before that one, Purdue led by 12 points at half in Columbus against the Ohio Buckeyes, but Ohio State stormed back in the second half and won the game by 4.
As of late, Purdue's games haven't been very one-sided. Either Purdue blows a first half lead or makes up a first half deficit, and this pattern has been fairly consistent over the entire Big Ten season. Purdue's first two Big Ten wins (Minnesota and Michigan) featured second half comebacks. So Purdue is either the comeback kid, or the hero that falls tragically. We'll have to see if the pattern stays consistent against Wisconsin on Friday.
Penn State is Moving in the Right Direction
Penn State's season was all but over heading into the Big Ten Tournament, and it looked like a disappointing season for Pat Chambers' Nittany Lions might end with a first or second round loss in the Big Ten Tournament. Instead, Penn State won two straight and almost pulled another one off over Purdue. Even though Penn State was unable to keep its run alive against Purdue, it still showed grit late in the season, and the whole team played with urgency and passion down the stretch.
A win against Iowa is a huge morale booster for the Nittany Lions at the end of the season. After a narrow home loss to the Hawkeyes just a few weeks earlier, Penn State was more than happy to take one back in the Big Ten Tournament. Pat Chambers has a positive note to end the season on and will look to continue rebuilding this program in the off season.
Purdue will move on to face Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament Saturday. Though they will surely be the underdogs, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Boilermakers give the Badgers a run for their money, as Purdue has played good opponents tightly this year. Purdue will more than likely hear its name called on selection Sunday for an at-large bud regardless of what happens on Saturday against the Badgers.
Penn State's season is over, and it is highly unlikely that we will see the Nittany Lions in the NIT Tournament. However, expect Pat Chambers to get this program moving in the right direction, as this team has shown that it is more than capable of competing with the big dogs in the conference.