After it saw a six-point halftime lead end in a six-point loss Saturday at Minnesota, the IU men’s basketball team (14-9, 4-6) will go up against the Penn State Nittany Lions (12-12, 3-8) at 7 p.m. in Assembly Hall.
IU got its first Big Ten win of the season against Penn State on Jan. 11, defeating the Nittany Lions 79-76.
In that contest, the Hoosiers showed a resiliency on the road it has yet to regain in Big Ten play. IU was down by as many as 15 points in that game, but a 19-point performance from freshman forward Noah Vonleh and a late 3-pointer from sophomore forward Austin Etherington sealed the victory for the Hoosiers.
During the Big Ten teleconference call Monday, IU Coach Tom Crean said Penn State is a difficult opponent to face.
“They play tough, smart basketball and like to control the pace,” Crean said. “(Penn State Coach) Pat Chambers has built that culture with energy and toughness, and they’re very talented.”
The Nittany Lions enter tonight’s game on a two-game losing streak, losing to Michigan State and Illinois this past week. Prior to that, however, Penn State won three games in a row, with a victory on the road against Ohio State in overtime.
As of Monday, Penn State’s D.J. Newbill is the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per game. In Big Ten play only, though, sophomore guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell leads the conference with 18.7 points per game — almost a full point ahead of Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble and Nebraska’s Terran Petteway, who are tied for second.
Crean praised Ferrell for his work ethic, saying Ferrell continually strives to make his team and himself better.
“He is a tremendous worker and a tremendous player,” Crean said. “We have so many guys that spend extra time in the gym. Yogi is one of those guys.
“He continues to work at it at a very high level. He wants to be a great player, and he really wants to be a great leader.”
Chambers, also speaking on the Big Ten teleconference call, said Ferrell is playing at a high level similar to Michigan’s Nik Stauskus.
“He is playing out of this world,” Chambers said. “He is up there with Stauskas on level of play in this league.”
Vonleh was a big part of IU’s win against Penn State last month. He connected on 5-of-9 shots from the field and made both of his 3-point attempts. He also pulled down six rebounds.
Chambers said Vonleh was a tough matchup for Penn State in the first game between the teams.
“He got our bigs in foul trouble and did a wonderful job,” Chambers said. “He is a difficult matchup and one that Coach Crean will try to ride if he thinks there is a mismatch.
“We are going to have to try to mix up some coverages and make it uncomfortable for him.”
Transitioning into Penn State, Crean said IU will have to be sharp on offense.
“Defensively, they will sag off players,” Crean said. “So we are going to have to be creative offensively because they will do some serious sagging off players.
“We have to make sure the ball is moving and our bodies are moving consistently during the game, and that we are taking care of the ball. They, like so many others, do a great job of turning live-ball turnovers into baskets.”
Follow reporter John Bauernfeind on Twitter @JohnBauernfeind.