Adam Fischer took a moment to think about the game he just trained in as he stood in the Penn State locker room inside Wells Fargo Arena. The Nittany Lions associate head coach was in charge of scouting Penn State’s first round opponent – Texas A&M – and credited Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry with putting the gameplan together.
Sure, there was initial nervousness, but the team soon settled in. And once they did, there was no turning back and no need to adjust that gameplan.
Fischer said that when it came to adjustments, it was not as much strategic partnership, but more encouraging players and fine-tuning what they knew they could do.
“I think it was too few reminders,” Fischer told the Center Daily Times. “Like, hey be ready for this or that. Obviously, when they got down a little bit we expected there to be a little bit of pressure to get up, a little bit of press to get up. We still wanted to be aggressive and in attack mode.” I think it was just little reminders.
Looks like the Nittany Lions needed a boost.
He played true to his identity along the way Chiefs win 76-59 over the Aggies in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
This identity is centered around lead guard Jalen Pickett, an All-American point guard who does not play like the traditional lead ball handler and shooters who surround him.
The Nittany Lions want to isolate Puckett against the opponent’s smallest defender, and they want him to go to work from there. Usually this is done by backing the defender until he is touching the paint, sometimes using half-spin moves and sometimes making a sudden first move to gain an advantage. Almost always, it works.
The strategies used against Penn State have worked. Sometimes opponents bring two defenders to the ball and double team it, sometimes they fight screens and don’t let defenders picket with them.
Texas A&M, led by head coach Buzz Williams, tried to double down on this occasion, but did mostly what his team does – they switched to ball screens and gave Puckett the defender he wanted, eventually taking a second. bringing the defender into a double team, but usually when the Nittany Lion guard could see the entire floor in front of him.
Williams credited Piquet with failing his defence.
“The decision coming from a player and conservatively speaking, the decision is coming in the middle of the floor,” Williams said in his postgame press conference. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, whether it’s zone, whether you’re switching, whether you’re not switching, they’re going to get the matchups they want (Pickett) and if you If you don’t help, he’s going to play with the ball in the middle of the floor. If you help, the ball is going immediately to the side where you’re down one player.”
Pickett was good as a scorer, finishing with 19 points, but really made the Aggies pay with his passing. He finished with eight assists and was able to hit his shooters – like Andrew Funk who made eight of his 10 3-point attempts and had 27 points.
Part of this was the gameplan set by Penn State head coach Micah Shrewsberry and his staff, but part was the lack of adjustments made by their opponents.
Penn State assistant coach Mike Farrelly credited the Aggies for sticking to their principles, and said he was proud of the Nittany Lions for executing at a high level. That being said, he wasn’t sure he’d ever been a part of a game where the team he was coaching didn’t have to stray from his identity and his initial gameplan.
“They were trying to be the best version of themselves and doing what got them here,” Farrelly told CDT. “But no, I’m not sure I have. … We stayed in the moment. … It’s keeping (the team) almost evenly spaced and in that possession. Not getting excited because it ‘Hey man, we’re about to make it to the next round of the NCAA tournament.’ We told them to play possession by possession with the right mindset.”
While those principles carried him to the NCAA tournament, they didn’t carry him any further. The Nittany Lions are a Bear to play against. They play like no other team in the country and they do it smartly – under the leadership of a head coach who regularly outdoes their competitors in that regard.
Thursday night was the perfect example of this. During 40 minutes of basketball, Penn State never had to tell who it was. And now it’s a team that just broke a streak of 22 years without an NCAA tournament win. Next up is Saturday in the bracket with the No. 2 seed, the Texas Longhorns.
As it did on Thursday, Penn State will stay true to itself. It will show the country that this is a team to be trusted with and will not go down easily.
This is a team that can make a big impact at the national level with each passing win.
Thursday was a wave. Saturday will be a tidal wave.