This isn’t the same Penn State team that lost 14 straight games to open Big Ten play.
And despite recently ending that streak with an upset against the team’s upcoming opponent, Michigan, the Nittany Lions made sure to note this isn’t the same matchup that resulted in them defeating the then-No. 4 Wolverines on Feb. 27, either.
The Lions (10-20, 2-16 Big Ten) are scheduled to get another shot at taking down the Wolverines (25-6, 12-6) in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at 2:30 this afternoon in Chicago, but players and coaches said they won’t be overemphasizing their victory two weeks ago. Rather, team members said taking lessons they learned from the last matchup will be the sole reason for looking back on it.
“It’s definitely nice going in there knowing that we’ve beat them before, but even if we didn’t beat them, I think we’ve gotten so much better since the beginning of the year,” sophomore Ross Travis said. “I think we’d already come in with that confidence a little bit just knowing that we can play with any of these teams in this tournament.”
The Lions turned the tables on their season by finishing the year with two wins in their final four games, including the shocking 84-78 win against Michigan in the Bryce Jordan Center. The home team came back from a 15-point deficit in the second half, thanks primarily to a 19-point onslaught from Jermaine Marshall in the final frame.
Yet, Marshall said the Lions aren’t holding the win against a team near the top of the polls near to their heart.
“It’s definitely a clean slate,” Marshall said. “They’re a great team. They just battled to the wire against Indiana. You can’t take anything away from them. We got them once, and now I think it’s time to refocus and it’s a different game, different atmosphere. And it should be a good one.”
The Wolverines’ last-minute loss to No. 3 Indiana on Sunday dropped the now-No. 6 team in the country to the fifth-seed in the competitive conference’s end-of-season tournament.
The 12th-seeded Lions will once again face arguably the best backcourt in the country in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., who were both named All-Big Ten First-Team selections this week.
In the last matchup, the Lions held Burke to just under his season average of 19.2 points per game, but coach Patrick Chambers said he expects Wolverines’ coach John Beilein to be more prepared this afternoon.
“They’ll do some different things to counter the things we did to negate Trey Burke, which is very hard to do,” Chambers said. “You can try to slow him down. We just got to really play good, solid defense [and] play hard without fouling.”
Despite getting crucial stops down the stretch, the Lions did not put forth an excellent defensive performance in the win against the Wolverines overall, as they allowed them to shoot 52 percent from the field.
Chambers said the inconsistent effort on defense was often caused by slow rotations, something he feels they must improve on to advance in the tournament.
Meanwhile, offensive firepower has allowed the Lions to keep pace with the Wolverines, as they are the only opponent Penn State has scored at least 70 points against twice this season.
The Lions had just nine turnovers in the most recent matchup and guard D.J. Newbill said this one of the biggest keys when playing Michigan.
“[We have to] cut down on our turnovers,” Newbill said. “We got to take care of the basketball and stick to our principles, defending and rebounding.”
And in order to maximize his team’s chances to win these battles within the game, Chambers said he’s not afraid to keep his starters on the floor even more than usual.
“In tournament play, that’s what it’s got to be,” Chambers said. “You win, you move on, you advance. You lose, you go home. So, let’s give it everything we have.”