East Lansing, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - The suddenly surging Penn State Nittany Lions hit the road to take on the ninth-ranked Michigan State Spartans in Big Ten Conference action on Thursday night.
After losing each of its first six Big Ten bouts, Penn State had been considered the weakest team in the conference. Since then however, the Nittany Lions have reeled off three straight victories, including a surprising 71-70 overtime decision at Ohio State on Jan. 29. The team's most recent triumph took place at home versus Purdue last Sunday, 79-68, and a win tonight, while difficult to attain, would even its record in true road games at 4-4.
At the other end of the spectrum in terms of conference success, Michigan State had won its first seven Big Ten tilts, but an 80-75 loss at home to bitter rival Michigan ended that streak. The Spartans bounced back with a 71-69 overtime win at Iowa, but followed that with a 64-60 setback to non- league foe Georgetown in New York City last Saturday. MSU is 9-2 at home this season.
Michigan State claimed a 79-63 win at Penn State in the first meeting between the two earlier this season, running its lead in the all-time series to a commanding 32-7.
For the most part, Penn State has been an effective offensive team in 2013-14, putting up 75.2 ppg behind the double-digit scoring efforts of guards D.J. Newbill (17.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Tim Frazier (16.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 6.4 apg), and forward Brandon Taylor (10.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg). Defensively, the Lions are permitting 72.3 ppg, despite foes shooting just 40.8 percent from the field. PSU is one of the better free-throw shooting teams in the conference (.741), but is being outrebounded narrowly (-0.2).
Newbill scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Frazier added 18 points, five boards and five helpers, and Taylor tacked on 15 points and eight caroms to lead Penn State to its double-digit win over Purdue last weekend. The Lions shot just 41.4 percent from the field, missing 15 of their 20 3-point tries, but the Boilermakers were only 3-of-11 from long range and suffered a 26-15 disadvantage in points from the foul line, as well as a 40-36 deficit on the glass.
Michigan State has performed well at both ends of the court this season, scoring 78.4 ppg in dropping 47.1 percent of its total shots, which includes a 37.9 percent showing from beyond the arc, while at the same time allowing 64.9 ppg, with foes shooting 38.4 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from the perimeter. Favorable margins in both rebounding (+4.3) and turnovers (+2.4) have certainly helped the team's cause, and it has four players averaging double figures in the scoring column, although one of them (Adreian Payne 16.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is out with an injury. Gary Harris leads the conference with his 18.4 ppg, while Keith Appling nets 15.0 ppg and hands out 4.9 apg. Dawson turns in 10.2 ppg, while also heading the team's rebounding effort with 8.7 rpg.
Poor shooting led to the Spartans' recent loss to Georgetown. MSU hit just 39.6 percent of its field goal attempts, although it did nail nine treys, taking 29 chances to get there. Harris tallied 20 points as high man for the Spartans, while Denzel Valentine finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, and Kenny Kaminski came off the bench to chip in 10. The Hoyas failed to do much from beyond the arc, hitting a mere 2-of-12 attempts, but they doubled up the Spartans in points from the charity stripe, 18-9.