On Saturday afternoon, the 9-7 Penn State Nittany Lions kicked off their fourth Big Ten game of the season against the 11-5 Michigan State Spartans in what was called a “mutual meeting spot” at The Palestra in downtown Philadelphia. After kicking off Big Ten play 3-0, and the return of freshman forward Miles Bridges, the spotlight was on the Spartans to set the tone in this matchup.
Unfortunately, Michigan State was instead faced with a relentless Penn State lineup who would hold the lead throughout the entirety of the second half.
Penn State’s collective effort was too much for Michigan State to handle. The Spartans failed to find their rhythm in the match, as they fell to the Nittany Lions, 73-62, to pick up their first loss in conference play this season.
Let’s see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan State’s Young Talent Must Step Up
In Miles Bridge’s second game since his return from a left ankle injury, the young forward struggled on the hardwood. Bridges concluded the match with just 4 points and six rebounds, an underwhelming showing in comparison to his previous performances. As Bridges struggled to get things going, so did his teammates. Cassius Winston was able to contribute only 5 points in the loss, something that has been a reoccurring theme for the Spartan’s talented guard. In Michigan State’s 93-65 win over Rutgers this past week, Winston added just two points. Josh Langford also struggled against Penn State, connecting on just two of his six shot attempts. Forward Nick Ward was just one of two Spartans to notch ten or more points on the afternoon.
In order for this team to find success, its young talent must rise to the occasion. Michigan State was fortunate enough to bring in four ESPN top 100 recruits in 2016, and now it’s time for them to produce. These players must work together in order to take down top opponents. The pieces are there for Michigan State, with Winston leading the Big Ten in assists, Ward picking up several Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors and Bridges returning to the floor. If the Spartans can come together, they should have no problem being a force in the Big Ten this year.
2. Penn State Has Grown
Teams like Michigan State and Indiana have previously established their dominance in the Big Ten, and this year, it appears that Penn State is on the rise. They may not be an elite team just yet, but they are well on their way with this win. Penn State’s freshman guard Tony Carr has been one of the several driving factors behind this team’s success. Carr, a Philadelphia native, returned to his hometown with a 14-point, six-rebound, two-assist performance. His efforts were followed by an 18-point, six-rebound game from forward, Lamar Stevens. With four players scoring ten-or-more points for the Nittany Lions in their win, selfishness is certainly absent from this team’s play. Their ability to find the open man, whether he be on the perimeter or in the paint, is something that has plagued opponents.
Some may say that with Michigan State struggling to find their identity this season, and players coming in fresh off injuries, that this win is not important.
That could not be further from the truth.
Michigan State came into this matchup with a 36-7 all-time record against Penn State with one of the finest recruiting classes in the country. Penn State’s ability to get this unexpected win will give them a tremendous amount of momentum moving forward in conference play.
3. Penn State must continue to build
Now that the Nittany Lions have picked up their second Big Ten win this season, they must build off their momentum. Penn State’s previous game against Michigan showed that they can compete, and with this match against Michigan State, that they can win. The Nittany Lions are now 10-7 this season and have a tough road ahead of them.
In their next three games, they will face-off against Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue, all of whom are legitimate threats in the Big Ten this season. The duo of Tony Carr and Shep Garner will continue to cause problems for opponents. With Penn State’s forwards dominating the paint, this team has what it takes to get big-time wins. Penn State’s chemistry on the floor has been remarkable this season. If the Nittany Lions can continue to play with the sense of urgency, expect their growth to continue throughout the season.
Michigan State’s young talent must step up in future games, as they look to find their footing against Minnesota. Penn State will look to build off of this big-time win and work together against elite opponents. Expect improvement from both teams in upcoming games.