Borovnjak still good in Penn State’s 64-59 loss to Illinois

Yes, everyone loves Penn State’s ATTITUDE and “energy,” but somehow all that grit and hustle has yet to pay dividends in the win column yet. I hope in three or four years the team’s slogan is “We have very talented players on the roster this season.” That would get me revved.

Anyway, I’m familiar with the whole “no moral victories” thing, but there were a couple of theme’s from Thursday’s 64-59 Penn State loss that were positive continuations from what went on in the Michigan game. First, Penn State actually shot the long ball well, with 8-of-19 three-pointers going in (42 percent). Second, Sasa Borovnjak once again scored 17 points and was highly efficient on the offensive end.

I’m not sure if the three-point shooting will hold up. Jermaine Marshall got off to cold start from that range, but finished 4-for-8 (buoyed by some late game shenanigans), while Nick Colella looked legitimately comfortable shooting the ball and finished 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. Borovnjak’s hot play seems more real to me because he’s always been a smooth finisher at the rim, but nowadays he’s finally converting at the tail end of pick-and-rolls. That’s a great sign, especially considering that PSU’s only real point guard has missed almost the entire season with an Achilles injury.

So, yeah, that was the good stuff. The Lions aren’t as terrible at shooting the ball as they have been for most of the season, and Borovnjak could REALLY flourish next season with Tim Frazier back at the point. State even played good defense on Thursday night with Illinois stars Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson both shooting well under 50 percent from the field (9-for-24 combined). However, that was balanced out by the ridiculous 31 fouls committed by the Nits over the course of the game. The Illini only hit on 64 percent of their free throws, but that still translated into 23 points.

What really did Penn State in was its own poor free throw shooting (9-for-16) as well as 15 turnovers. D.J. Newbill was a big part of those giveaways, and he was generally horrible on Thursday night. After hitting a couple of jumpers early on, Newbill shot 2-for-12 for the remainder of the game and turned the ball over seven times. Although he did hand out five assists, it’s still clear that Newbill isn’t a good point guard, and the Illini did a good job making sure he couldn’t turn the corner on them the way he did for some easy buckets versus Michigan and Iowa.

I still think that Penn State will win another basketball game before the season is done (I’m thinking March 7 at Northwestern), but in the meantime it’s fun to think about what things will be like next year when Borovnjak and Frazier are running the pick-and-roll like Nash and Stoudemire. Newbill will be able to hit jump shots against teams other than Iowa, Ross Travis will realize that he’s better off not taking any shots outside of five feet, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

For those more interested in reality, Penn State doesn’t play again until Wednesday the 27th in a home game against Michigan.

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