I’m going to rattle off a few hoops stats for you: 36.4% shooting from the floor, including 22 % from 3-point range, 13 turnovers, and Geary Claxton is held to 11 points. How many points does PSU lose by?
In the case of yesterday’s unprecedented 68-64 win at Illinois: The answer is a resounding “Trick question.”
The difference makers in this game? Ed DeChellis’ team rebounding the ball like somebody pissed in their Wheaties (45 boards w/20 offensive rebounds) and scoring options other than Claxton and Jamelle Cornley (18 pts). Talor Battle pitched in with 9 points, DJ Jackson with 8, Stanley Pringle with 6, and even Brandon “Apollo Creed” Hassell had 5.
I followed the first half of the game via ESPN.com’s Gamecast and noticed that we got ourselves into an early hole, falling behind by as many as 9. In years past, this would’ve spelled disaster for our team but now that ED has legitimate depth (as opposed to “paper depth”) on the bench, he can bring in guys to spell for an ineffective starter. Being able to mix things up and try different combinations on the floor is a luxury ED finally has in his arsenal, the “Speed Racer”-esque backcourt combination of Pringle and Battle being quite effective as of late. I can’t even begin to describe how refreshing it is to see a PSU team that pushes the ball up the court and drives in the lane on most possessions as opposed to the “slowly dribble up the court and play chuck-and-duck around the perimeter” many of us are used to.
Perhaps most important though, was the “Never say die” attitude the players showed. I watched the 2nd half at my local bar/grill and was just impressed by the effort we put out there: The players were high-fiving each other, the bench would go bananas after every positive play as if we were playing in the NCAA tournament, and the team just played with a swagger that had not been seen in a while. We led the entire second half but Illinois always remained within striking distance and whenever they managed to cut our lead down to a couple points, I kept thinking to myself, “This is it, this is where we fall apart” and in years past I would’ve been right. However, this was a PSU team that was willing to do whatever it took to NOT fall apart and to play their best for 40 minutes. For the first time in a long time, I had an giant shit-eating grin on my face from watching PSU basketball.
Perhaps the most ironic thing about this win was the fact that we most employed a 2-3 zone…The same 2-3 zone that last season allowed lousy 3-point shooting teams to suddenly look like a team full of Larry Birds on NBA All-Star Weekend. Kudos to ED for realizing that the 1-3-1 zone and man defenses he employed earlier weren’t cutting it and for having his team play a style that gave the Illini the most trouble. ED also did a good job when it came to using timeouts, if it seemed like the Illini were about to gain any serious momentum, he would re-assemble the troops who would come out of the timeout with a big play (usually a basket on the in-bounds play).
As for how this win affects the “Average Joe” PSU fan base (You know, the ones who only follow football): Check out FightonState.com’s basketball board, the amount of traffic in that forum has skyrocketed since yesterday. Even Black Shoe Diaries (Who also has a nice write-up on this game) and Run Up The Score are buzzing about this team and its only a matter of time until folks like LB at I’ll Think About That Tomorrow follow suit. It’s amazing how breaking a 15-game Big Ten road losing streak by winning back-to-back games on the road suddenly blooms optimism.
As it stands for now: We’re 10-4 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, with a home date against Tubby Smith’s Minnesota team coming up Saturday afternoon. Let’s hope it doesn’t end up like the last time we faced Minnesota after shocking Illinois on the road