Penn State (12-15; 7-12) at Rutgers (17-12; 11-8)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway, New Jersey (capacity 8,000)
(Vaccination policy for indoor events here)
Tip-off: Sunday, March 6 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Senior Day Ceremonies: The team will hold a pregame ceremony prior to the game at roughly 11:42 a.m. where the team will honor five senior student-athletes and three student managers.
TV: BTN - Jeff Levering and Jess Settles
Stream: FOX Sports Live
NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 76; Penn State No. 93 (Quad 3 opponent)
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 71, which is three spots better following a 66-63 win over No. 44 Indiana on Wednesday. Penn State - No. 94, which is two spots better following a 60-55 loss at No. 18 Ilinois on Thursday.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 106.8 (112th) Defense 95.6 (39th); Penn State - Offense 105.6 (134th) Defense 97.4 (63rd)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 63 Penn State 58; Rutgers is given a 68% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -5.5
Series History: Penn State leads the all-time series 45-33 including a 66-49 win in Happy Valley this past January. In Big Ten play, PSU holds an 8-4 advantage, are 3-2 at the RAC and have won three in a row, all at home.
Penn State: 6’4” senior Jalen Pickett - 13.0 points, 4.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 30.1% 3-pt FG; 6’6” junior Seth Lundy - 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 steal, 36.9% 3-pt FG; 6’0” senior Sam Sessoms - 11.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 42.0% 3-pt FG; 6’9” senior John Harrar - 10.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 65.5% FG; 6’9” senior Greg Lee - 7.7 points, 6.3 rebounds; 6’4” senior Myles Dread - 6.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steal, 38.8% 3-pt FG; 6’3” sophomore Dallion Johnson - 3.9 points, 1.2 rebounds, 44.1% 3-pt FG; 6’8” senior Jalanni White - 2.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 51.9% FG; 6’4” senior Jaheam Cornwall - 2.3 points, 1.0 rebound
Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 15.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 40.0% 3-pt FG; 6’4” redshirt senior Geo Baker - 12.2 points, 3.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 31.9% 3-pt FG; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 61.3% FG; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 8.9 points, 5.1 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 34.8% 3-pt FG; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 6.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals, 2.2 assists, 26.5% 3-pt FG; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 4.5 points, 2.9 rebounds; 6’8” Jaden Jones - 3.6 points, 1.2 rebounds; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 3.2 points, 2.0 rebounds; 6’10 sophomore Dean Reiber - 2.9 points, 1.1 rebounds, 54.4% FG; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 2.1 points, 1.1 rebounds; 6’8” sophomore Oskar Palmquist - 1.5 points, 5-11 3-pt FG; 6’2” freshman Jalen Miller - 0.7 points
About Penn State
The Nittany Lions are 3-9 against KenPom Top 50 opponents and are 6-12 against Top 100 foes. They are 1-8 on the road in Big Ten play with the lone victory coming January 5 against Northwestern 74-70. They’ve lost their last seven games away from Happy Valley. That being said, five of their road defeats are by single digits including a hard fought 60-55 loss at Illinois on Thursday. They had a +10 rebounding margin in the second half and held the Illini to just 36% shooting for the game.
PSU averages 64.9 points per game and is allowing opponents to score 65.5 points per contest. They are shooting 50.3% from two-point range (157th), 34.6% from three-point range (119th) and 72.3% from the free throw line (151st). They struggle taking care of the basketball with a 19.2% turnover rate (224th) and opponents block their shots at a rate of 9.4% (220th).
Defensively, the Nittany Lions are holding opponents to just 45.2% from two-point range, which is the 18th lowest nationally. However, they are allowing the opposition to shoot 35.3% from three-point range (271st). They struggle to force takeaways with a defensive turnover rate of just 13.9% (351st) and have only a 6.3% block rate (307th). They do limit foes on the glass, as opponents have an offensive rebounding rate of just 24.7% (54th).
First year head coach Micah Shrewsberry has PSU playing hard and are led by Jalen Pickett, Seth Lundy and John Harrar. PSU is an old team with seven seniors in their nine man roation, including four graduate students.
In Big Ten play, they are 12th in offensive efficiency and 7th in defensive efficiency. They play with the slowest tempo in the league, have the lowest free throw rate as well and are 12th in turnover rate. Defensively, PSU leads the conference in holding opponents to only 45.1% from two-point range and are 4th in limiting opponents on the offensive glass.
For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 68.0 points per game and allowing 65.4 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 49.6% from two-point range (207th), 33.7% from three-point range (176th) and 70.7% from the foul line (207th)......They are ranked 30th nationally in assist rate at 58.7%, 44th in two-point defense in holding opponents to 46.3% shooting, 54th in defensive block rate at 11.8% and 59th in defensive steal rate at 11.0% .......Rutgers is 9th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play so far this season......RU is 4th from three-point range at 36.8% shooting, 5th in free throw shooting at 73.3% and 5th in offensive rebounding rate at 28.8% in league play........They are in the top five in five defensive categories in Big Ten play including 1st in steal rate (10.7%), 3rd in turnover rate (17.6%), 4th in block rate (12.1%) and free throw rate (26.4%) while 5th in two-point defense (48.6%).....Rutgers is 8-5 against KenPom Top 50 teams and 10-8 against KenPom Top 100 teams.
Stat To Know
In Big Ten play this season, Rutgers is 9-0 when holding opponents to 65 or fewer points. Conversely, Penn State is 2-9 when scoring 65 or fewer points in league action.
Keys To Victory
The RAC will be filled with emotion at the start of the game as Senior Day Ceremonies take place before tip-off. The last home game for Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr. and Caleb McConnell is also their most important in that a win keeps this team in NCAA Tournament contention. A Quad 3 loss to PSU would be devastating to their resume. It’s a must win on a day that fans will pack the place to say goodbye to players that have meant so much to this program. How the seniors and the rest of the team handle those emotions, especially early in the game, are critical.
Getting off to a good start and channeling the energy of the crowd would put a lot of pressure on Penn State. The Nittany Lions aren’t going to be easily intimidated and they’ve won in Piscataway multiple times in recent years.
The most important keys are the bread and butter of the Steve Pikiell era, defense and rebounding. Rutgers needs to play to their potential on the defensive end. If they do that, it’s going to be hard for PSU to win. Expect some fullcourt pressure early on and multiple looks including the zone to challenge their turnover prone offense to adjust. RU needs to score in transition against one of the best two-point defenses in the country. They only had 6 fast break points in the first meeting which is partly why they were held to just 49 points.
In addition, Rutgers has to take care of the basketball against a team that rarely forces mistakes. Penn State held a 19-11 advantage in points off of turnovers in the first meeting as RU committed 15 turnovers. Paul Mulcahy has really struggled of late and there is no better time for him to respond with a big game than Sunday. More than anything, keeping his composure and making sure Rutgers is sharing the basketball is essential to the offense clicking.
The Scarlet Knights had a -8 rebounding margin in the first meeting and being more competitive on the glass on Sunday is key as well. John Harrar is a beast on the boards for PSU and keeping him off the offensive glass is a must. Rutgers is so much tougher to play when they are rebounding by committee. Cliff Omoruyi also needs a big game and had a double-double in the first meeting. Be physical, especially with Harrar, and limit the smaller guards from tracking down long rebounds from following their shot.
Penn State lured Rutgers into far too many mid-range contested jumpers in the first meeting. Getting downhill to the rim early on is important and penetration will lead to open looks behind the arc. Penn State will collapse in the lane and RU needs to anticipate finding the open shooter quicker than they did in the first meeting. PSU is playing its second road game in four days, so making them work on the defensive end is a must.
At the end of the day, this is a game the seniors need to lead in. Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker need to hit big shots, while one needs to be active on the glass and the other needs to make sure the ball isn’t sticking. Caleb McConnell has one last opportunity to show why he deserves to be Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He’ll need to limit leading scorer Jalen Pickett and deny him the ball as often as possible, which will force others to try and score. Sam Sessoms torched the Scarlet Knights in the first meeting and will likely draw Geo Baker and Jalen Miller. I do expect some zone mixed in, especially with Rutgers having struggled against smaller backcourts this season.
Defend without fouling, close out on the perimeter and prevent second chance scoring opportunities. On the flip side, limit turnovers, make PSU work in the halfcourt on the defensive end with ball reversals and screening action, while looking to run as often as they can. Convert from the foul line, maintain their poise and use the crowd as the 6th man that will help push them towards victory. Finish possessions on both ends and bring a greater focus for 40 minutes against a tough team, but one I believe they are better than.
For the last game of the regular season, I selected “Runnin’ Down A Dream” by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. A classic song for a senior day that is hopefully remembered forever for the right reasons. Also make sure you check out the Mike Campbell soloThe sen, who is also one of the most underrated guitarists in rock history in my opinion.
It’s simple. This group of seniors has changed the trajectory of Rutgers basketball. This game is another opportunity to move the needle forward. A win would mean the most in Big Ten regular season play since the program joined the league, keeps the possibility of earning a double bye for the Big Ten Tournament alive and gives them another win on their NCAA Tournament resume, as well as momentum heading into the postseason.
The seniors spoke about the vision and dream they shared with Steve Pikiell when they came to Rutgers. Sunday is a chance to further their legacy as winners and give themselves a real chance at dancing once again. They’re running down a dream and the RAC faithful will be there doing their best to help them do that. Get the tissues and tums ready. Run it down Rutgers, run it down!