Five takeaways from Penn State’s 83-61 win over Michigan in this year’s Thon game
Getting back on track was vital for Penn State heading into Sunday’s noon matchup with the Michigan Wolverines in the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions delivered with a 83-61 win in the program’s annual Thon game. Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s matchup.
Pickett catches fire early
One of the best guards in the country started off the game on fire for the Nittany Lions. Jalen Pickett has been the engine that makes the Penn State offense go all season and that didn’t change against the Wolverines. He lit up the Michigan defense early and often. He attacked off the dribble driving into the paint and kicking passes out to open teammates on the perimeter. When the defense didn’t collapse down on him, he turned and backed down his man until he created just enough space to get a shot off or hand them under the rim where he could get an easy layup. Pickett had 14 of Penn State’s first 19 points in the game and set the tone early for Penn State.
Big men don’t come much bigger in college basketball than Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson. The Wolverine center is listed at 7-foot-1, 260 pounds and plays like it on the court. He uses his height, weight and length to beat his opponents down low, backing them down until he’s close enough to finish with a hook shot, layup or dunk.
Inside looks like those are a major source of offense for the Wolverines and it was imperative for the Nittany Lions to try to limit them at all costs. That meant double teaming Dickinson to force him to pass the ball or turn it over. That was effective early, with the Michigan big man only accumulating four points and one rebound in the first half of the game.
Henn heats up
Rarely does Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry make changes to his starting lineup. So when there were two made ahead of Sunday’s game, it was a mild surprise. Mikey Henn and Caleb Dorsey were inserted instead of Cam Wynter and Kebba Njie, in part to combat Michigan’s size, but also to stretch the floor when the Nittany Lions have the ball. That was highly successful, especially when Pickett went to the bench for a stint. In a short amount of time, Henn, hit a few cutters with bounce passes, rolled to the rim and made a layup and splashed home two 3-pointers for Penn State. His performance helped turn what is usually a weak period, when Pickett is on the bench, into a positive one.
Late first half explosion
Deviating from the team’s identity was not in the gameplan after the Nittany Lions made only four 3-pointers against Rutgers Tuesday night on the road. Instead, they leaned further into who they are and got much of the positive regression to the mean they were due for after their horrid performance from deep in the last game. Penn State responded by lighting up the Wolverines from beyond the arc. The team made nine 3-pointers in just the first half, including five in a row to extend a 31-30 lead to 46-30 late in the first half. Henn, Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk were responsible for those five that helped the Nittany Lions get into the half with a 49-32 lead.
Putting the Wolverines away
Second half starts have not been a strong point for the Nittany Lions this year, but even that went away against Michigan. A 17-point lead at the half turned into a 28-point lead in just over five minutes of play in the second half. Penn State came out of the gate strong and immediately got a Lundy 3-pointer and Henn layup to set the tone for the rest of the way. There haven’t been many games where Penn State has grown a halftime lead, which shows just how locked in the Nittany Lions seemed to be throughout Sunday’s action. Like the Rutgers loss, this win won’t make or break the season for Penn State, but it does help with holding serve at home in conference.