If there was nothing else to the story behind the headline, it wouldn't be so bad. But it's an odd feeling. An unknown sensation to Penn State fans. Losing basketball games is actually starting to hurt. Especially when you lose them like Penn State lost to Michigan last night.
The first half belonged to the Nittany Lions. The shots were falling, and Penn State raced out to a 15 point half time lead. At one point Penn State was even playing with Andrew Ott and three true freshmen on the court (Edwards, Frazier, and Sasa) and holding their own. It looked like they were going to just cruise to their first Big Ten win over a Michigan team that has really struggled all season. But the warning signs were there. They defense was not as good as it appeared. Michigan just wasn't hitting their shots and went 0-for-15 from the arc. But all that changed in the second half.
Penn State couldn't do anything right in the second half. They stood around and passed the ball out of bounds on offense. They committed dumb fouls and left shooters wide open on defense. And Michigan started making their shots. It was a total collapse that would have made John L. Smith proud.
On the bright side, Jeff Brooks looked pretty good in the first half. Then he turned into a turnover machine in the second half. Chris Babb looked pretty good. Then Ed sat him down for some reason and Frazier played most of the second half. Again, turnover machine. Andrew Jones was in foul trouble within the first three minutes of the game....AGAIN. And did David Jackson even play tonight? Like I said, when it's the Talor Battle show and nobody else steps up, we can lose to anyone. And tonight we did.
I kind of expected Penn State to blow a few games like this. They are a young team. Besides Talor Battle, there is no leadership. There are no clutch players you can go to when you need a bucket and the defense will not let Battle get the ball. Guys like Bill Edwards and Tim Frazier may get there some day, but they're not there yet.
What disappoints me is the total lack of intensity on defense. I can understand the lack of dependable scorers on this young team, but there is no excuse for the lack of hustle on defense. How do you let shooters get open time and time again after they continue to kill you? Why is Tim Frazier down under the basket to help against the dribble drive leaving a shooter all alone at the arc? Why can't our guys fight through screens? And when we step out to help on the screen, why does the ball handler still manage to drive the lane?
I guess I shouldn't be surprised our guys can't defend the pick and roll. It's not like they know how to execute one. Our screens are a joke. They don't slow down anyone. Ott can't even pick nacho crumbs out of his scraggly beard. Michigan was out there contesting every ball handler. They were sticking a hand in every passing lane. Our guys stand there on defense giving the point guard a full look at the court. Step out there and make them work a bit. Don't give me crap about saving Battle for the offensive end. What good is it if he scores 20 points and gives up 16?
This was about as demoralizing as demoralizing losses can get. And this came off the embarrassing showing where Wisconsin did anything they wanted to do for 40 solid minutes. And before that they came from behind to take a second half lead at Minnesota and blew that game. This team has dug themselves a deep hole. We'll find out if these youngsters have the guts to dig themselves out.