GAME NOTES: The Penn State Nittany Lions play their final non-conference game of the regular season today, as they entertain the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Mount St. Mary's has had a rough go of it here in the early going, losing more than twice as many games as it has won (3-7). The good news is the Mountaineers are coming off a victory, that being a 70-58 verdict against Loyola-Maryland back on Dec. 7. The team, which is 0-6 on the road this season, will play two more non-league bouts before tipping off Northeast Conference action at Fairleigh Dickinson on Jan. 9.
Despite sitting four games over .500 at the moment (8-4), Penn State has been tough to read this season. Losses to Ole Miss and Pittsburgh could certainly be pardoned, but for the team to be taken seriously in the Big Ten Conference, it has to beat teams like Bucknell and Princeton, both of which took down the Nittany Lions on their home floor. The loss to the Tigers, which actually took place at Rec Hall a week ago Saturday, went to overtime (81-79).
Penn State is 7-0 all-time against The Mount, and the last meeting between the two was in 2010.
The primary issue concerning Mount St. Mary's after the first 10 games is its inability to stop the opposition from pretty much doing whatever they want, which includes putting up 80.1 ppg -- ranking the team 325th of 345 teams charted at the Division I level in scoring defense. Its average yield on field goal attempts actually has it ranked worse (.510, 342nd). From an offensive standpoint, the Mountaineers are putting up 69.4 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .401 overall and .315 from 3-point range. Julian Norfleet and Rashad Whack are really the only two players capable of carrying the team from one night to the next, as they are netting 18.6 and 14.6 ppg, respectively. Norfleet, who also dishes 5.4 apg, scored 16 points, just two off the pace set by Whack, the duo combining for 10 treys as The Mount beat Loyola the last time out. Taylor Danaher pitched in with 12 points and seven rebounds, while Gregory Graves came off the bench to chip in with 10 points and seven boards as well. The Mountaineers were rather sloppy with the ball, turning it over 18 times, but they played stingy defense in holding the Greyhounds to just 33.9 percent field goal efficiency, which included a dismal 2-of-13 showing from downtown.
Penn State has one of the top backcourt duos in not only the Big Ten, but the country as well, as D.J. Newbill (19.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Tim Frazier (18.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 7.6 apg, 1.9 spg) get it done at both ends of the court. Help comes from Ross Travis (11.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Brandon Taylor (10.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg), and there is even more good news as Pittsburgh transfer John Johnson is eligible for the first time. Frazier, who had more assists than any Division I player heading into this past week, joined Newbill in tallying 24 points apiece in the overtime loss to Princeton. The Nittany Lions lost the game despite easily winning the rebounding battle (44-22), due in large part to their 20 turnovers, 13 of which were credited to Newbill and Frazier, and the fact that the Tigers nailed 10 3-pointers compared to just four for the home team. Ross finished with a double-double consisting of 15 points and 12 caroms. For the season, PSU is averaging 80.3 ppg while allowing 72.5 ppg. Outshooting the opposition is the norm (.472 to .407), and the Lions are +3.1 in rebounding margin.
Try as they might, the Mountaineers simply lack the talent and depth needed to stay competitive with most teams on their schedule. With Penn State's talented backcourt tandem forcing the action, expect the home team to win this one rather easily.
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