The Penn State Basketball team is primed to square off against #1 ranked Purdue in The Palestra this evening in a game that is very special for a multitude of reasons.
The first reason it is such a special game is because of the historic venue it will be taking place in. The Palestra, located about 5 miles from the center of Philadelphia, has been commonly called a “Cathedral of College Basketball.” The arena was built in 1927 at the University of Pennsylvania and is the oldest collegiate arena still in use. It has been the home to the most NCAA tournament games, and just college games in general, of any arena all time. It is most famous, however, for being the battling ground of the Philadelphia Big 5. LaSalle, Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova make up the Big 5 that all have bitter rivalries with each other as they “fight” for the city of Philadelphia.
Every once in a while, the Palestra is used for schools not in Philly for a big game, like the matchup we will see today. Penn State basketball was one of the first teams to ever play in the famous arena, playing there less than a month after it was opened. Tonight’s matchup will be the Nittany Lions’ 61st time playing in the Palestra and their 23rd time playing someone other than Penn there.
Their most recent matchup at the arena saw a 21st ranked PSU team take down a #the 23rd ranked Iowa team 89-86, partially fueled by then sophomore Myles Dread who had 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. The last of his 4 assists was a beautiful cross court lob to Penn State Basketball great Mike Watkins who threw it down to give Penn State basketball a 2 point lead they would never surrender. Now as a 5th year senior, Dread will look to provide a similar spark in this matchup.
This game is also a special matchup for head coach Micah Shrewsberry. Before coach Shrews got hired as the head coach at PSU, he was the lead assistant at Purdue from 2019 to 2021. He helped recruit some of the current playmakers for the Boilermakers like Pennsylvania native Ethan Morton and star center Zach Edey. He is also extremely close with Purdue head coach Matt Painter and credits him for a lot of the success he has had early in his Penn State career. Shrews and Painter’s teams matched up twice last with both meetings going to Purdue in very tight and competitive games.
This game will provide a difficult task for the Nittany Lions. Purdue comes into this game with one recent 2-point loss and #1 ranking in the country. Penn State Men’s Basketball has never beaten an AP Poll #1 in program history up to this point. In their last opportunity to pull off the upset Penn State fell to Duke at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off in 2016. Their closest chances came in 1993 when they took #1 Indiana to double OT and in 1988 when the lost by 1 point to #1 Temple.
Purdue is led by their big man at center Zach Edey. Edey is a physically imposing interior force that towers over his opponents at 7 ‘4”, 295 pounds. The junior from Toronto was a solid contributor at Purdue his first two years averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds as a freshman and 14 points and 8 rebounds as a junior. With top 5 pick Jaden Ivey off to a strong start in his professional career Purdue became Edey’s team this year, and he is handling that increased role and responsibility extremely well. He is averaging 21 points and 13 rebounds a game, shooting 63% from the field while doing it. That scoring total is 10th in the country, the rebounding is 2nd, and the FG% is 15th.
Beyond Edey, freshman guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith start in the backcourt and come in as the 2nd and 3rd highest scorers on the team. Rounding out the starting five are sophomore forward Caleb Furst and junior forward Ethan Morton. These two are relied less on for scoring but more for defense and keeping the flow of the offense moving.
Penn State’s path to victory is difficult but not impossible. It is no secret that Penn State has struggled to defend the interior to begin the season. Just last game against Michigan Hunter Dickinson burned them for 17 points and 6 rebounds and really controlled things around the rim all night. With Edey being maybe the best center in the nation that does not sound like a great mix. Penn State is going to have to send a variety of different looks and bodies at him to try and slow him down, mainly focusing on preventing him from getting good position before he even gets the ball. Realistically though, Edey is going to get his, he has all year against every team.
For Penn State to win they have to make the rest of the Purdue roster beat them. Two of their starters, Loyer and Morton, are shooting well under 40% from the field. The key will be forcing guys like them to take the shots. If they hit them oh well, that’s who the numbers say you want taking the shots if you are playing Purdue.
For the Penn State offense, they just need to play to their strengths. This team lives and dies by the 3 ball and this game will be no different. Besides Jalen Pickett, most of the roster loves to stay on the perimeter. This has hurt them in the past due to the lack of rim attempts and fouls they draw but with Edey roaming down low, this style might lend itself well to how we will have to play to win. With the shooters Penn State basketball has, they are able to stay in it with anyone in the country, and as long as they focus on finding the right shots, we should be in for a good one tomorrow evening in Philly.
The game tips off at 6 p.m. EST at The Palestra and can be seen on the Big Ten Network. Purdue is currently a 5-point favorite for the matchup.