PSU Hoops downs Rutgers at home behind Sessoms' 17 points, strong defense
It was a quiet start in Happy Valley on Tuesday night when Penn State hosted Rutgers, as neither team scored for two-plus minutes at the start of the contest.
Jalen Pickett grabbed the Nittany Lions’ first points, but there still wasn’t much falling on either side. The game was knotted at just four points apiece for the first five minutes of action.
Penn State found a bit of a groove after the first media timeout, picking up an 11-2 run behind John Harrar and Sam Sessoms. Sessoms struggled mightily his last time out, and he got back into rhythm with a quick layup and 3-pointer in this one.
Rutgers couldn’t get much of anything going on the offensive end for much of the first half, and Penn State jumped out to a hefty 21-8 lead behind threes from Pickett and Seth Lundy.
The Scarlet Knights finally found some momentum near the eight-minute mark, sparking an 11-2 run that was capped by 3-pointers from Ron Harper Jr. and Oskar Palmquist.
Penn State answered with a pair of buckets in the waning moments of the first period, closing a sloppy first half with a 27-19 lead.
The second half got started with a Rutgers dunk, but the sloppy play continued as some touchy foul calls were made on a number of consecutive possessions. In the first four minutes out of the break, the teams combined for six turnovers and four fouls with just four made baskets.
Geo Baker finally killed a three-minute scoring drought for both teams, cutting Penn State’s lead to six points.
Penn State answered back with a nice little 12-5 run before Baker hit another three in transition after a controversial missed kicked-ball violation by the Scarlet Knights.
Sessoms and Harrar answered with a pretty two-man game down low, and Harper Jr. committed an offensive foul to force a Rutgers timeout.
The timeout didn’t shift the momentum, as Penn State came out and made two-straight buckets for a quick 6-0 run, including Jevonnie Scott’s first points in the blue and white.
Sessoms kept his hot night going to extend the Penn State lead, hitting another three and getting some crafty buckets to fall at the rim. The Nittany Lions pushed the lead to 14 with just under a minute and a half to go, all but sealing the deal.
Micah Shrewsberry and company earned their third win in four games by a score of 66-49.
Sessoms had a game-high 17 points, while Harrar and Pickett added 16 and 15 of their own, respectively. Greg Lee led the way for Penn State with 12 boards, his first double-digit rebounding mark of the year. Clifford Omoruyi topped Rutgers’ stat sheet with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Shrewsberry was very happy with the performance after the win, especially the defensive performance, and he didn’t seem to mind any offensive struggles.
“There might not be anybody here to watch, but if we can win four to two, I'd be thrilled,” Shrewsberry said with a laugh. “Our defensive numbers would be awesome.”
Sessoms gets right
Sessoms had himself a tough two-game stretch against Northwestern and Purdue, scoring six and zero points, respectively. He also turned it over twice in each game.
The poor performances led to Sessoms registering just seven minutes against the Boilermakers after averaging roughly 30 heading into the game.
He provided an important offensive spark for Penn State against Rutgers, scoring a couple of big buckets during the first-half run when not much else was going right offensively.
Sessoms hit an important triple midway through the second half, and he really caught fire as the period drew on.
He was also dishing the ball left and right, consistently racking up assists after drawing multiple defenders in the paint. He had assists on X of Penn State’s second-half baskets.
Sessoms finished the night with 17 points, six assists and played an important 30 minutes off the bench, enough for by far his best performance since conference play got started.
The point guard admitted after the game that he didn’t give his best effort against Purdue. He felt like he let his team down, and that fueled him to play better against the Scarlet Knights.
Shrewsberry said he got on Sessoms after the game, but Sessoms responded well. He said he didn’t have to tell his senior sixth man anything, because Sessoms “knew.” Playing so little against Purdue sent the message that Shrewsberry needed to get across.
“That says a lot about his character, who he is as a person [and] his resiliency to just bounce back and play,” Shrewsberry said. “And he played with more force, he played with more pace, he was attacking the basket, and we're really hard to guard when he and Pickett are both playing like that at the same time.”
Rutgers, Ron Harper Jr. quieted
Widely regarded as one of the top scorers in the Big Ten, especially after his 30-point outburst against then-No. 1 Purdue, Harper Jr. probably wasn’t very happy in Happy Valley on Tuesday.
Coming in averaging 16.3 points per game, Harper Jr. was held to just seven points, most of which came on a pair of triples.
Holding Rutgers’ most impactful player in check was characteristic of the entire night, as Penn State stifled the Scarlet Knights across the board defensively.
They averaged 70.4 points per game heading in, and they didn’t even get close to the mark, which is something Penn State has done to just about every team it has faced this season.
While Lundy didn’t have his best night offensively, Shrewsberry made sure to credit the forward for the job he did on Harper Jr. defensively. Shrewsberry said he tasked Lundy with guarding Harper Jr. all night, coming on and off the floor whenever Harper Jr. did.
“Whenever the season started, there probably wasn't anybody in here that was waving the Seth Lundy all-defensive team flag,” Shrewsberry said.” Seth Lundy has guarded the best player or one of the best players on every single team this year.”
His teammates took notice, too.
“I think Seth Lundy did a heck of a job. We emphasized Ron Harper,” Harrar said. “In all the big games that they've won, Ron Harper goes off for 25+, so Seth Lundy was all over him.
“And I think our defense has turned into one of our best sides of the court. We obviously have talent on the offensive end, but we wanna guard. We wanna know what's happening.”
Scott sees his first minutes
After dealing with NCAA eligibility issues early in the season and then taking time to get back up to speed, Jevonnie Scott finally found his way onto the court for the Nittany Lions.
He didn’t have much of an impact in the game, scoring just two points while grabbing one rebound.
Scott played five minutes, but he got on the floor for a couple of impactful moments. He even was tasked with guarding Harper Jr. on occasion.
It wasn’t anything special performance wise, but Shrewsberry will be happy to see another body at the forward position after lacking depth there earlier in the season.
Harrar said he was happy to see Scott out there, and he thinks the transfer has a lot of upside.
“Jevonnie Scott doesn't play tonight if he doesn't go compete in practice,” Harrar said. “He's been competing in practice. He's been all over the glass and he's been giving me trouble in practice.”
Sessoms said he understood the struggles Scott was going through with not being able to play while still having to go to school and live away from home, so he was happy to see Scott out there against Rutgers.
“I know he was going through, so just to see him out there, I was just happy for him,” Sessoms said. “I was just really happy for him.”