Throughout the nonconference and much of the Big Ten slate, Penn State forward Sasa Borovnjak has tried to set up a niche for himself on the low block.
Borovnjak, a 6-foot-9 senior, didn’t make much of an impact in the early goings, as he averaged just 2.7 points per game in the season’s first nine contests.
In the team’s last two contests, however, the Serbia native has come on strong, and has been the consistent third scorer the Nittany Lions (8-17, 0-13 Big Ten) have been seeking all season long.
Borovnjak accounted for 14 points against Iowa on Thursday and 17 in the Lions’ road matchup with top 10 foe Michigan on Sunday.
But this recent success hasn’t been the product of a controlling presence around the rim, rather the Lions playing to Borovnjak’s comfort in the high-post.
“He’s not a traditional big, strong guy who’s going to overpower you down low,” assistant coach and frontcourt mentor Brian Daly said. “But what he does have is that he can use his left and his right and he has a nice 15-foot jumper he can use from the foul line or either baseline.”
With that being said, the Lions’ coaching staff made it a priority to get their leading big man out from under the basket and into a more fluid and free set out near the perimeter via the “corner offense”.
This corner set — an NBA offense — has allowed Borovnjak to catch the ball between the free throw line and the top of the key and look for multiple options.
Head coach Patrick Chambers said with this particular setup the forward can take a defender one-on-one, pop a mid-range jumper or resort to a dribble-handoff to one of the guards.
Borovnjak still serves as the “five” man working from block to block, but using him up top with four players on the perimeter allows him more opportunities to roll to the basket and make things happen.
“It’s not so much on the block, but instead how he’s catching the basketball and finishing,” Chambers said. “He’s been in a lot of pick-and-roll and dribble-handoff situations, and he’s rolling [to the basket] hard or he’s popping when he’s open.”
Borovnjak seconded his coach, saying that the corner offense gives him a lot of choices and “opens up a lot of things” for him and his teammates.
Not only has the forward scored in double-digits the past two games, but he’s also been much more efficient from the field. In his last two games, Borovnjak has shot close to 77 percent from the floor (13-of-17).
So if it’s worked the past couple of weeks, why wasn’t the corner offense implemented earlier in the season?
Daly said the offensive set was a concept in the back of the coaches’ minds for quite some time and as the season went along, they decided it was time to install it.
“As the season goes along you add different wrinkles as you go through it,” Daly said. “Certainly, coach [Chambers] has always had this in the back of his head and we thought [the last few weeks] have been a good time to roll it out during a game.”
And by granting Borovnjak more of a chance with the ball in his hands, it consequently relieves pressure from some of the ball handlers, most notably D.J. Newbill.
Newbill — a true “No. 2” or slashing guard — has assumed the point guard duties in 2012-13 with the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by Tim Frazier four games into the year.
With that considered, Chambers has tried to find ways to alleviate some of the stress on Newbill and one of those ways has been the corner offense.
“We’re giving him some freedom to make decision which takes some pressure off D.J. I was just trying to come up with different ways to take pressure off this kid so he doesn’t have to make every decision for 40 minutes,” Chambers said. “Now you have a set where you throw someone else in there to make decisions.”
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