...and its fourth...
...and its fifth...
...but that E'Twaun Moore really needs to pick up his game.
I kid, of course. This is exactly the type of game we needed. JaJuan Johnson and Smooge only gave us 19 points. E'Twaun had a season low four and his worst game since the debacle against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tourney last year. It didn't matter. Ryne Smith had one of the most efficient 20 point nights you will ever see. Lewis Jackson scored from seemingly all over the floor, and we cruised to another double digit road win in Big Ten play.
Yes, it was only against Penn State, but it still takes a special effort to win by double digits on the road in this league in any venue, even the mausoleum known as the Bryce Jordan Center. The truth is, we didn't even play that well with some uncharacteristic turnovers and poor free throw shooting. If we had been hitting free throws and taking better care of the ball we might have won by 40 tonight, especially considering the points that the Nittany Lions scored in transition off of turnovers.
It is a beautiful thing when you win by 15 on the road in this league without playing well. It also served as notice that we're not necessarily to be written off next season, either.
Positives from the first Penn State game:
Ryne Smith - 5 for 5 from the field, 5 for 7 from the line, 20 points. I think it is safe to say that as long as The Closer continues to average almost 17 points per game in Big Ten play we will do just fine. I don't know how long his run is going to last, but now that it has gone three games we have shown that he must be guarded at all times. That only makes things more open for the other four players, and especially JJ and E'Twaun. Every single team will now have to guard Ryno. His man cannot sag off of him to pursue the double-team on JJ or E'Twaun, and those two can beat almost anyone in this conference in single coverage.
Travis Carroll - He played the fewest minutes of anyone tonight, but the leader of the Hansons had his best game in weeks. A prime example of what he can do was shown on his basket that was goal-tended. When his man went to double on JJ he executed an excellent cut to the basket for the score. Carroll earned his second half start tonight, as well as his extended minutes. We've been looking for one Hanson to step forward. He has done it. I think we can safely say he has been more reliable than Patrick bade at any point last year.
LewJack - When you talk about drawing attention to others LewJack made as big of a step forward tonight as Ryno. He might have made a bigger one, in fact. LewJack unleashed a jumpshot, something he has shown only in rare instances so far. When combined with his driving ability and his ability to get to the line tonight, Penn State didn't have a single player that could guard him.
He and Kelsey Barlow also did a great job on Talor Battle, forcing him into ugly shots and preventing his drive. LewJack didn't distribute as much tonight, especially when he had a chance to feed JJ for a ruthless dunk, but he still made Penn State pay. Now if he can eliminate some of his turnovers of the past few games we'll be even better offensively.
Kelsey Barlow - Nothing special here, just a solid effort that, if duplicated, will make a lot of things easier.
Terone Johnson - He needs to improve his free throw shooting, but otherwise he wasn't afraid to shoot and drive tonight. His shot will come around, but I think tonight was important for his confidence because he kept going at it even though he was having a poor shooting night. Again, this only opens things up for everyone else.
Rebounding - We were especially effective on the offensive glass. JJ cleaned things up nicely with six offensive boards. I am especially happy to see this because Penn State was a bigger team than us. They don't rebound well, but we still out-hustled them and did what needed to be done on the glass.
Perimeter defense - We're giving up more points than we usually do, but I think most of that has come as a result of who we have played. We're still choking the life out of teams on the perimeter and only giving up most of those points after we have built a big lead.
JJ - It seems like an, "oh, by the way," but I'll take that type of 15 and 15 from JJ. You barely noticed him doing his work, which is how I like it.
Offensive balance - Eight players scored and all eight had at least four points. That means everyone ended two possession by scoring, continuing to prove my point about making teams worry about everyone on the floor, even Carroll.
Negatives from the first Penn State game:
Free Throw shooting - On the plus side, I am glad that LewJack, GDB, and The Apprentice took most of the free throws. These are guys that need to work on their chops from the line. Still, we have to shoot better than 61% to make closer games feel safe.
With the turnovers and poor free throws shooting things felt disjointed. I can't really gripe about a 15 point road conference win when E'Twaun scores only five points. Even then, he still affected the game with five assists and five rebounds. It is the unselfish nature of this team that makes us so good. E'Twaun did not mind one bit that his teammates scored 79 points without him tonight. JJ was not afraid to pass to Travis Carroll on that backdoor cut when Carroll hadn't scored in almost a month. What you are seeing now is the continued progression of this team. Seth Davis can sell us all he wants, but he (as the replacement for Defend That, Digger) will only continue to look foolish.
Don't you think the remaining seven coaches we have to face in conference play took noticed of tonight? Tom Izzo, Thad Matta, Bruce Weber, Tubby Smith, and all the others can't be happy that we're capable of scoring 83 points (against multiple defenses that Penn State played, I might add), with one of our All-American candidates scoring only four points.
Honestly, this team couldn't be playing better tonight. You can even judge it by the way that the announcers failed to mention Rob until late when the outcome was decided and we were playing out the string. Shoot, I got the first Rob mention in the Open Thread, and that was at halftime. That's unheard of for a broadcast of this team.
It's getting real fun to watch this team keep rolling.