(Please listen to the following song as I wax poetic about our own JaJuan Johnson)
We needed a hero last night. After blowing a 14 point first half lead we found ourselves in a dogfight against one of the most surpisingly tenacious teams in the Big Ten. Defensively, they took away everything beyond the 3-point arc where we had feasted for a game and a half against them. A series of solid individual plays (Kelsey Barlow, D.J. Byrd, and E'Twaun Moore especially) gave us some crucial baskets, but after David Jackson hit a monster three, we were, for lack of a better term, in deep shit.
This is the type of loss that kills Big Ten championships. You absolutely have to defend your home court in this league, especially this season and especially against teams you have already beaten on the road. Defend your home court, take 5-6 games on the road, then you can put up another banner. We absolutely needed this win, and it looked like it would slip away against a surprisingly improved Penn State team.
First we tried to give the ball to E'Twaun, the Red Button. He couldn't covert, and the ball was knocked out of bounds (yes, from my seat it looked glaringly obvious it was off him). The officials, consistently bad both ways, gave us the ball, and our hero delivered.
It needs to start somewhere, so I am going to begin it right now: JaJuan Johnson should be the National Player of the Year. Last night was his first "Heisman Moment" where he won a game. against West Virginia and Minnesota we had a chance to tie, but didn't get him a ball. He showed last night what he can do when we look to him in those clutch situations. He should be NPOY for more than that though. He is a tenacious defender who, in my opinion, is actually holding back on defense, probably to avoid fouls. Offensviely, there isn't a single player in the country that can guard him one-on-one. He consistently dominates anyone trying to defend him, and therefore, he demands a double-team any time he touches the ball. He has range from 21-feet, which for a big man is amazing. He can consistently knock down free throws (79% having shot the most on the team by far). He knows that teams are going to come after him every night and he still dominates. No one can stop him, and when he is truly on it opens things up for everyone else.
JaJuan Johnson: National Player of the Year. Sounds pretty good doesn't it?
I have to give a lot of credit to the Nittany Lions. That is a team that has improved dramatically after we pretty much had our way with them two weeks ago. I tweeted last night, as I was leaving mackey, that they can cause as much havoc in the Big Ten as they want now. We have our two wins against them. They've already beaten Indiana, Michigan State, and Illinois for us. That alone is enough to make me a fan. They are a dangerous team that will be trouble for everyone else. It's amazing that this is the same team that lost to Maine at home by 10. Talor Battle has help now in Jackson and Jeff Brooks. Thsi will be a difficult game for everyone else. Thank God we're done with them until at least the Big Ten Tournament.
Positives from the Second Penn State game:
Smooge - In the first half, after he had missed a few shots, I commented to Mrs. T-Mill that something was wrong with E'Twaun. He immediately answered with a pair of 3-pointers and a 15-footer. I spent the rest of the game screaming, "WELCOME BACK, E'TWAUN!" Even late in the second half I commented that he hadn't scored, two seconds before he drove for a dunk to make it 60-57. He's not all the way back, but the 16 point per night E'Twaun is just fine for now.
D.J. Byrd - A lot of people have been critical of Byrd's play lately because of some dumb decisions and because he hadn't scored much. Rumor has it the kid is playing hurt, and I think he has been doing a lot of little things that don't show up in the box score. Last night he was more noticed because he scored five points. His baseline jumper with 3:03 left was huge, and an example of what happens when our offense is run perfectly. We don't need to run set plays for E'Twaun and JJ. Instead, we try to get open looks for anyone, and it is there job to score when they have a chance. D.J. saw his opportunity and seized it with a huge basket. He saw another with his near dunk that almost became the play of the season. Had that dunk gone down it would have been on highlight shows everywhere.
Kelsey Barlow - GDB played in control last night, and his drive and dunk with 6:28 left was a great example of that. He made a move, saw the lane was free because of a defensive screwup, and finished. With prejudice.
Different looks - I think part of our offensive struggles of late come from the return of John Hart. he has earned playing time, but we're still adjusting to a nine man rotation from an eight man rotation. His 13 minutes last night have been taken from others, most likely Terone Johnson and Ryne Smith. We're still trying to get everyone in the mix, so it will come together.
Ryne Smith - Gotta give it up for Ryno. He scored the first five points, they decided to guard him, so he decided to hand out five dimes.
Negatives from the second Penn State game:
Rebounding - How on earth did we only get 14 rebounds over the course of a major college basketball game? Sure, part of it came from Penn State shooting the lights out of the gym, but 14 rebounds seems incredibly low. I don't like how teams are out-hustling us on the glass when we ahd been rebounding well. Shoot, we outrebounded Minnesota and they had a huge size advantage over us. I still want to see Barlow crashing the glass more because of his athletic ability.
The Officials - As mentioned above, at least they were bad both ways. They missed the call on E'Twaun with five seconds left, but they also somehow reset the shot clock even though Penn State didn't hit the rim on the original attempt or the putback. Big Ten officiating, everyone!
This was a huge game because we were finally able to come through when it mattered. At Minnesota and West Virginia we had chances, but couldn't finish. Last night we did. That was a major characteristic of last year's team. agaisnt Tennessee, Alabama, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Penn State, and Texas A&M we made the plays down the stretch to close out close games. Either we hit a huge basket late (like Chris Kramer against A&M or Keaton Grant against Minny) or we made a huge defensive stop. We had not had a moment like that yet, except for at Virginia Tech.
Now we know we can win a close game. A third of the conference season is over and we're 5-1. If we finished each of the next two thirds with the same record, a Big Ten title is likely in our future. The equation is simple: Defend our home court, win at Indiana and Iowa (as we should) and at least split the Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio State road games.
Next up is a Michigan State Spartans team that has to be feeling a little bit of desperation. Your Big Ten champion is likely going to have at least three losses. Michgian State is almost to that limit already, while we have more play. Let's put them at that limit.