Blue White Illustrated

February 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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6 F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 2 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M M icah Shrewsberry walked into Penn State's Jan. 2 game against Indiana with a key trait in the back of his mind relating to his oppo- site number. Indiana head coach Mike Woodson, Shrewsberry said after the game, is elite at drawing up plays out of time- outs. Shrewsberry had seen his gift up close in the NBA, when Woodson coached the Knicks and Shrewsberry served as an assistant with the Celtics. His solution? Give Woodson a mov- ing target. He brought out a zone de- fense look, allowing the Nittany Lions to switch between defenses out of timeouts. It helped ensure Woodson didn't know for certain which defense his team would face upon the resump- tion of play, making it much more dif- ficult to dial up a play. "When he gets a chance to huddle those guys and talk to them, I thought he could really pick us apart," Shrews- berry said. "So, we worked on it. We've been working on it a little bit here and there. I just wanted to try to keep him off-balance a little bit." The Nittany Lions survived that game with a 61-58 victory, the first win in conference play under Shrewsberry, their first-year head coach. There is still much to learn about Shrewsberry, and plenty of obstacles stand between him and sustained suc- cess at Penn State, a place where, for decades, that has seemed almost im- possible to achieve. But what's evident about Shrews- berry, midway through his first season, is this: He's a coach who can help the Nittany Lions win in the margins. And, if they're going to turn this program around — if they're going to win at a university where conventional wisdom says you can't — that is absolutely non-negotiable. Just take a look at Penn State's roster this season for further evidence. Shrewsberry plucked senior point guard Jalen Pickett from Siena. Super senior big man Greg Lee came from Western Michigan. Another super senior forward, Jalanni White, was averaging under 15 minutes per game at Canisius, but is now contributing regularly in the Big Ten. Super senior guard Jaheam Cornwall arrived this past offseason from Gardner-Webb. You get the picture. The only former top-160 prospect according to the On3 Consensus on Penn State's team is junior forward Seth Lundy. It's not a traditional Big Ten basketball roster, but rather a hodgepodge of talent that Shrewsberry has looking more and more cohesive as the season progresses. Picked to finish next-to-last in the Big Ten by the media before the sea- son, Penn State sat at 3-4 in confer- ence play heading into a road contest with Iowa on Jan. 22. As of Jan. 20, the Nittany Lions were ranked 68th in KenPom's analytic ratings — plenty high enough to dream about a potential NIT berth, if they can continue playing well. The turning point for the Nittany Lions may have come with an enforced break in December due to positive COVID-19 tests. Penn State saw three of its games canceled and had to stay off the practice court for roughly two weeks. Every performance that followed the unanticipated hiatus was positive. Penn State beat Indiana and North- western before giving No. 3 Purdue a scare at home. The Nittany Lions then got the best of a red-hot Rutgers team before falling by five points on the road to No. 16 Ohio State without Lundy, their leading scorer. Those improvements came on the back of a deep dive from Shrewsberry, who used the time away to execute a midseason evaluation. "I went through, and every point that the other team scored on us, I did an accountability sheet about who gave those points up. And why did they score? If you had a bad closeout and it led to a drive and kick, open three, you got those points," Shrewsberry explained. "I kind of went through that whole thing. You get a chance to see everything." During the five-game run that fol- lowed, Penn State held its opponents below their season scoring benchmarks by an average of more than 14 points per game. It's clear, though, that Shrewsberry isn't satisfied with moral victories. "We're not here to stay in games," he said after the Ohio State defeat. "We're here to win games." It seems apparent that he has the tools to help Penn State do that. And who knows? That turnaround might come sooner than any of us thought. ■ O P I N I O N DAVID ECKERT davidecker S i n ce h i s a r r i va l l a s t s p r i n g , h e a d co a c h M i ca h Shrewsberry has emphasized defense. Through 15 games, the Nittany Lions were giving up only 64.7 points per game, which ranked third in the Big Ten. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL Nittany Lions' Basketball Program Is On The Right Track JUDGMENT CALL

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