Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State basketball's opponent. State News men's basketball reporter Jayna Bardahl spoke with Evan Patrick of The Daily Collegian ahead of MSU and Penn State's matchup Feb. 9.
After dropping four straight in conference play, Michigan State men's basketball won a must needed contest against Nebraska on Feb. 6. But they'll need to keep that ball rolling to keep tournament hopes alive.
The Spartans are back to full force after Gabe Brown returned from quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
This week, The State News spoke with The Daily Collegian sportswriter Evan Patrick to get an insider's perspective on what exactly the Nittany Lions will bring Tuesday evening.
Q: Penn State has their fair share of promising Big Ten wins in games against Wisconsin, Rutgers and Maryland. What clicked for PSU in these matchups to help them come out on top?
A: When Penn State has struggled this year, it's been a product of foul trouble and its inability to defend the paint. Against Wisconsin, Rutgers and Maryland, the Nittany Lions were able to defend without fouling and create turnovers in the halfcourt that led to the game being played at their preferred fast pace. Senior forward John Harrar anchors the paint as Penn State's biggest player, but he only stands 6-foot-9, so getting steals on the perimeter and keeping opposing teams out of the paint has been crucial to the Nittany Lions' success. In the win over Wisconsin, Penn State outscored the Badgers 21-3 in fastbreak points — when the two teams played just three days later, Wisconsin won by double-digits and didn't allow a single fastbreak point.
Q: In the games MSU has won, their defense set them apart. If the Spartans bring the defensive grit we've seen in just a handful of games this season, who will the Nittany Lions turn to to score?
A: Penn State has three players who can put up 20 points on any given night in Myreon Jones, Izaiah Brockington and Seth Lundy. Jones leads the team in scoring on the season, but he's coming off his worst game of the year against Maryland where he put up just two points on 1-9 shooting. Brockington has made the leap from sixth man a season ago to one of the most reliable players on this team. He has an old-school offensive approach based on midrange jumpers and attacking the rim. In his sophomore season, Lundy has been a wildcard. Some nights he is the clear No. 1 option and has put up over 30 points, but other times he disappears and isn't looking to get involved.
Q: How much does PSU rely on team leaders Jones and Brockington? Who else is emerging?
A: Jones and Brockington are key pieces in initiating offense and most sets are going to be run through them, but seniors Jamari Wheeler and John Harrar are the true leaders of the team. Wheeler and Harrar don't put up eye-popping offensive stats, but they both do the little things that generate extra possessions and make a huge impact in the end. Harrar is tied for the lead in the Big Ten with 3.7 offensive rebounds per game, and Wheeler is third in the conference with 1.73 steals per game. Sam Sessoms has been a key addition as a transfer from Binghamton. He's carved out his role as the sixth man, averaging a Big Ten-leading 9.5 points per game off the bench.
Q: What is your score prediction and why?
A: I think this is going to be a back-and-forth game throughout, but the Nittany Lions will come out on top. When Penn State has been able to assert its playstyle by turning teams over and getting out in transition, good things have happened for interim head coach Jim Ferry's side. The Spartans average the most turnovers per game in the Big Ten at 14.1, and they're the only team to average more fouls per game than the Nittany Lions. Penn State's 3-point shooting has been abysmal the last two games it's played, but its season average has hovered around 35% and I think it will get back to that point in East Lansing. The Nittany Lions know they need every win they can get as they sit on the bubble ahead of March, and I think they'll be locked in looking to build momentum after beating Maryland.
Penn State 75, Michigan State 70
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