With its back up against the wall, Penn State Basketball came through in the clutch.
Jalen Pickett had a career night and a program best game to lead the Nittany Lions in a high scoring offensive affair that ended with Penn State Basketball picking up a huge 93-81 win.
Pickett’s 41-point performance tonight is potentially the greatest single game performance in program history. The point total breaks D.J. Newbill’s previous single game record of 37. He did it with extreme efficiency. He hit 15, another single game record, or 20 shot attempts. These makes came from all over. His normal post-game worked to perfection; he added some nice mid-range iso plays to shoot over smaller guards and added 5 threes mostly on tough step back jumpers. Pickett was also able to compliment his tough shot making with finally getting a few whistles, going 6-6 at the line. It was not just the scoring, however. As always, Pickett was the offensive hub for the Nittany Lions, adding 8 assists to his offensive masterclass.
The scoring started early and often for both teams and never really slowed down. This does not mean the game was that close, however. Penn State took an 8-point lead 6 minutes into the game and more or less held that lead for the rest of the game. The Nittany Lions hit 12 threes on 43% shooting and fared far better scoring inside the arc and getting to the free throw line than they had all year. They were able to shoot a remarkable 72% from inside the three-point line as well as draw 20 free throws, both breaking season long trends of below average production in those areas.
Penn State’s defense problem is far from gone. They allowed 40 points in both halves and continued a dangerous trend of poor defense. Defense was seemingly the pillar of the Shrewsberry team last year but that has not translated. Including tonight, Penn State has not held a team under 70 points since a January 24th loss to Rutgers. That is 6 games in a row now that the opposing offenses have seemed to operate at will. Tonight, Illinois was cold from three only going 7-27 but they embarrassed Penn State’s interior defense with smart cuts, advanced passing, and great transition play. This is a problem Penn State has to get a handle on going forward because Pickett is not going to have a program best game every night.
While Pickett was amazing, he was not the only one to help Penn State win this one. Seth Lundy continued his great play, scoring 15 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. Lundy is building himself a very solid NBA case for next year. He has the athletic profile and size, add that to his great on ball defense and elite three-point shooting and you may be looking at a very solid 3 and D wing in today’s NBA. Kanye Clary continues to look like a very big part of present and the future. He followed up his breakout game against Maryland with a 12-point performance tonight where he continues to look more and more comfortable with the college game.
This win was extremely important to keep any hope alive for an NCAA Tournament bid. Penn State Basketball will look to keep the hope alive on Saturday, February 18th when they take on the Golden Gophers in Minnesota. The game is at 9 PM EST and televised on the Big Ten Network.