Down by eight points with 55 seconds left in the first half, Penn State was looking for a spark against La Salle Wednesday.
At the time, forward Ross Travis and guard Jermaine Marshall — who respectively scored 10 and 13 points in the first half — had the hot hands, but the stimulant heading into the break didn’t come from either of them.
Rather, it came from perhaps one of the most offensively-challenged players on the Nittany Lions’ roster: Sasa Borovnjak.
Borovnjak, who had four points at the time, scored another four on two power moves to the basket, accounting for the last scores of the half.
And while it may not seem like much, those two buckets gave the Serbian a boost of confidence — something that’s eluded the redshirt junior for quite a while.
“It’s all in my head. I think I got my confidence back [on Wednesday],” said Borovnjak, who has averaged just less than 18 minutes per game this season. “I talked to coach and he said to just go out there and have fun. So that’s what I did, I cleared my head and played without distractions.”
Borovnjak started off the year struggling on the offensive end, averaging 1.7 points per game prior to the La Salle contest and was held scoreless in four of the first seven games.
However, that first half performance alone not only instilled spirit in himself, but also gave coach Patrick Chambers faith in his 6-foot-9 forward — enough that he started Borovnjak the next game against Army.
Despite getting into foul trouble early, Borovnjak showed flashes of command with the ball, including a Pau Gasol-esque dish from the foul line to a slashing Marshall for a layup.
After giving the redshirt junior the starting nod for the first time all season Saturday, Chambers said it was the leadership factor that had him sold.
“He’s making some good decisions for us,” Chambers said. “…He’s ready to do it.”
Even after posting 26.1 points per game in his last year at Veritas Christian Academy high school in North Carolina, Borovnjak hasn’t panned out to be a reliable, on-the-block scorer. Tearing his ACL before the 2010-11 campaign didn’t help the Belgrade, Serbia native’s attempt to establish himself in the Lions’ featured plans.
Now, Borovnjak is capitalizing on his chances to forge himself in the Lions’ 2012 successes.
While he isn’t the most physically gifted player on the team, Borovnjak does boast a bench press of more than 300 pounds and has shown glimpses of superiority around the basket when banging bodies with defenders.
Not only that, but opposing teams have been keying in on Marshall and converted point guard D.J. Newbill. As teams commit their focus to the backcourt, Borovnjak and the frontcourt will find more looks at the basket.
Now, it’s just a matter of the forward taking advantage of those looks.
“People are leaving our bigs and helping the guards,” Chambers said. “He is starting to become a better offensive rebounder, watching the flight of the ball and gauging where it might go. He is in the right place at the right time. That is usually what happens when you play hard. When you play hard, you get a little bit lucky.”