Penn State hits the road to take on Purdue tonight

Tonight is the last chance this season for Penn State to pick up a Big Ten road win as it takes on Purdue at 6:30 (TV: BTN) in Mackey Arena. Although Penn State did indeed crush the Boilers 65-45 back on January 5, this time will not be as easy in the slightest. Not only is Purdue going to be celebrating Robbie Hummel’s storied career on senior night, but the Boilers are actually playing much better basketball as of late, despite Kelsey Barlow getting kicked off the team because of an off-campus incident.

Getting Reacquianted with the Boilermakers

Purdue has won 4 of its last 5 games, including a huge win on the road versus Michigan on Saturday as well as a blowout home victory over Nebraska last Wednesday. In general, the Boilers shoot the ball quite well from three point land (37% in conference play), but for the last two games, they have been hotter than hot. Scalding even. How about 45% versus Nebraska and then 47% versus Michigan? That’s a lot better than the 26% Purdue managed versus PSU in January.

In particular junior D.J. Byrd has been feeling it lately from long range. It’s scary enough that he’s hit 45% of this three-pointers on the season, but when you consider the dude is 54% from that range in his last six games, you get goosebumps. GOOSEBUMPS! That’s not all, though. Penn State will also have to contain Ryne Smith (42% on the season) and of course Hummel (36%).

Speaking of Hummel, he’s another Boiler who’s playing much better than his season averages lately. The unquestioned leader of Purdue has surpassed his season average of 16.5 points per game in each of the last five games, including 29 against Nebraska and 27 versus Northwestern. Sure, those teams are defensive stalwarts, but neither is Penn State. Hummel will probably get more than the 14 he posted during the first meeting.

Two other players worth mentioning are Terone Johnson and Lewis Jackson. Johnson may or may not be a big factor tonight. He’s kind of been up and down all season, but he just broke through with a huge 22-point game against Michigan. He’s the type of guy who will take advantage of his teammates shooting threes and get his work done in the paint. Johnson’s opportunities have increased with the dismissal of Barlow.

It’s also senior night for Lewis Jackson, who is a big reason why Purdue leads the Big Ten in not turning the ball over. At 5’9″ tall, Jackson is even smaller than Tim Frazier, but he’s a very skillful player who has exactly 5 assists in his last four games. Jackson’s season average is 4.2 dimes per game, so you know he is taking advantage of the recent spurt in three-point shooting and is looking to get the ball to his buddies.

 Keys for Penn State

If you assume that Purdue is not going to be completely terrible on offense like they were last time, then Penn State is going to need a lot of points to win this game. Unlike Matt Painter teams of the past few years, Purdue is actually pretty bad defensively with 109.3 points allowed per 100 possessions in conference play. That’s 9th out of 12 in the Big Ten and one spot below Penn State (107.3 points allowed). It turns out that without JaJuan Johnson being a complete monster, it’s much easier to shoot the ball versus Purdue and teams are less prone to turnovers. Of course, Penn State is terrible in general at putting the ball in the hoop, but lately this probably has only been reeling its head on the road… So, this one will be tough for PSU.

Tony Mancuso recently sat down with PSU assistant coach Keith Urgo to discuss tonight’s game. Click on this link or just read my summary below.

  • Forwards Jon Graham and Ross Travis have shown great improvement lately. In the loss to Northwestern, Travis scored 10 points for the first time in conference play and also grabbed a career high 9 rebounds. Over his last three games, Graham is averaging 9.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game
  • Robbie Hummel is playing much better lately. To contain him, Penn State will use more than one player and try to force him to take contested jump shots
  • With improvement by Travis and Graham, the offense is getting better and more is opening up for Frazier. Penn State needs to hit shots early and not fall into a hole on the road like they have a habit of doing.
  • Penn State must guard against Purdue’s drive-and-kick strategy as well as make sure the Boilers only get one shot per possession.
  • Purdue likes to get out in transition and hit threes. PSU must make baskets to slow them down (also, baskets are worth points!).

Should Penn State pull off a big upset tonight, it could possibly move up to the 11 seed in the Big Ten tournament. As of now, PSU is the 12 and on pace to play Indiana in the first round. Let’s go State!

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Tags: D.J. Byrd Jon Graham Lewis Jackson Purdue Basketball Robbie Hummel Ross Travis Ryne Smith Terone Johnson Tim Frazier

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